Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lorraine's Review - The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore

This profoundly moving novel is set in the early 1950’s in Leningrad during the Stalinist era.. It is a follow up to The Siege (Penguin, 2001) which focused on the Levin family and their friends trapped in the besieged city during the Second World War. In 1941 Hitler’s armies encircled Leningrad and expected to crush resistance but the city held out despite incredible suffering.

The suffering continues in the lives of Andrei, his wife Anna and her brother Kolya. Andrei is a dedicated physician who is a devoted husband to Anna. They have taken on responsibility for Kolya, Anna’s younger brother, who is now a typical sixteen year old. The three live in an apartment where any of their neighbors can report them and danger lurks everywhere – including the nursery where Anna works. But the greatest threat comes when Russov, another doctor at the hospital, pleads with Andrei to have a look at a young patient. The case is outside of Andrei’s specialty but he does give an opinion in the case and become involved in the care of the boy. The child is Gorya, the son of a high ranking secret police officer, Volkov. The prognosis for the child is very poor as he has cancer and his lower leg is amputated.

The novel is riveting and well realized and I became very fond of Andrei and Anna. At times I could barely stand to read it as it is so painful in its descriptions of the effect of the destructive machinations of the Stalinist regime. I wish I had read The Siege first as I would have had a greater understanding of the family’s background and struggle for survival.

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