Tuesday, 24 August 2010
The Siege by Helen Dunmore
While Chris has an interest in reading non-fiction books about the First and Second World War, my interest in this period tends to be confined to historical fiction. So after reading Jackie at farmlanebooks review of The Siege and then going shopping mad (and I mean mad) at thebookpeople.com I very quickly devoured The Siege.
Set during The siege of Leningrad which started towards the end of 1941, the book follows a small family which includes a child as they endure the worst of a Russian winter with no electricity or running water while living on their meagre rations of 250 grams of bread for a worker and 125 grams for a non-worker.
The siege of Leningrad lasted around 2 ½ years and saw the deaths of more than one million civilians from starvation. Very few supplies were able to get into the city and as well as this the civilians also had to put up with being shelled on a daily basis.
There are a couple of love stories within the book but once the worst of the Siege takes hold the only thing on anyone's mind is food and survival. These thoughts occupy the minds of the characters throughout much of the book, there are no thoughts for the future or who they think is winning this battle, the conversations and commentary is focused on the hunger, cold and rumours of where firewood can be found.
Parts of the book contains commentary from Pavlov; the nutritionist who tries over and over to make the figures work and ultimately decides the amount of rations each person can have. Aside from this though we get to see little of the bigger picture. We know the Germans are there because we read about the effects of their shelling but Dunmore does not show the reader the effect on the Germans at the front line. This is not a criticism, I think Dunmore was wise to do this. By focusing on the civilians she is able to allow the reader to really get to know the main characters and to get the reader to care whether they live or survive.
This is not a light subject but the pace of the book and the matter-of-fact way in which this is written makes this quite a fast read which I couldn't put down.
I would highly recommend this.
Posted by Jess