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The House Girl: A Novel

The House Girl: A Novel


The House Girl: A Novel

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4/5 (135 evaluări)
Lungime:
14 hours
Lansat:
Feb 12, 2013
ISBN:
9780062239877
Format:
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Descriere

Two remarkable women, separated by more than a century, whose lives unexpectedly intertwine. . . 2004: Lina Sparrow is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves. 1852: Josephine is a seventeen-year-old house slave who tends to the mistress of a Virginia tobacco farm-an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell.

Through her artist father, Lina discovers that art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine. A descendant of Josephine's would be the perfect face for the lawsuit-if Lina can find one. In piecing together Josephine's story, Lina embarks on a journey that will lead her to question her own life. This searing tale of art and history, love and secrets explores what it means to repair a wrong, and asks whether truth can be more important than justice.

Performed by Bahni Turpin

Lansat:
Feb 12, 2013
ISBN:
9780062239877
Format:
Carte audio

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Despre autor

Tara Conklin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The House Girl. Trained as a lawyer, she worked for an international human rights organization and as a litigator at a corporate law firm in London and New York. Her short fiction has appeared in the Bristol Prize Anthology, Pangea: An Anthology of Stories from Around the Globe, and This Is the Place: Women Writing About Home. She holds a BA in history from Yale University, a JD from New York University School of Law, and a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School (Tufts University). She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her family.

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  • (3/5)
    This is an interesting story combining history, art and the law. It is told in two narratives - Josephine, a 17 year-old house slave and modern day Lina, a young attorney. Gradually their stories intersect and the book becomes more interesting. However, I found Lina's story far more compelling as she searches for the 'perfect' plaintiff to be the face of a class lawsuit for slave reparations. I enjoyed the first few chapters of Josephine's story but then I found her story incomplete. She felt plastic and lacked emotion so I never really connected with her. The ending was also rather disappointing after having spent nearly a week following the lives of Lina and Josephine.
  • (3/5)
    This one started out promising, but it didn't deliver. Lina Sparrow, a junior lawyer at an elite New York firm, is assigned an interesting case: to find a focal litigant for a class action suit demanding reparations for the descendants of slaves. Lina's father is a well-known artist whose agent is promoting an exhibition of the work of Lu Ann Bell, a Virginia plantation owner's wife who painted portraits of her slaves in the 1840s. But is Lu Ann really the artist or, as some critics suspect, is it her house girl, Josephine? Lina decides to search for a descendant of Josephine (if indeed there are any), thinking that the publicity from the exhibition will help to garner support for her case.So where did this go wrong? Mainly because the author couldn't leave well enough alone and inserted way, way too many side stories, feebly affixed to the main one. Oscar Sparrow also has an exhibition in line, a series of portraits of the wife who died 20 years ago. Lina barely remembers her mother and is confused by the intensity of the paintings. What really happened to her mother? What was her parents' marriage really like? She's also dealing with multiple conflicts--with her father and the fact that he has a new love interest, with her critical boss at the law firm and the overly competitive lawyer with whom she is working on the case, getting over a recent breakup, figuring out her own sense of self, etc., etc. etc. And--of course--she had to throw in a love interest. I would have preferred the simple focus on Josephine's sad story.This author has a new book out, but I think I will pass.
  • (4/5)
    I listened to this on audio. As it's told from dual pov and two different periods of time, I thought I may have difficulty following along. I did not. It was such a well written story. The only downfall I could possibly see is that the chapters are few. However, with an audio, the story went by quite quickly without boredom or confusion. If you are into Historial Fiction in reference to slavery, I recommend The House Girl.
  • (3/5)
    This is the debut novel for Tara Conklin. It's historical fiction set in two time periods: (1) present day New York City with Attorney Lina who works on a class action case on behalf of the descendants of slaves who were never paid for their work, and (2) mid-1800's Virginia on a failing tobacco plantation where Josephine is a slave house girl. Josephine is artistic and brave and dreams of running away to escape the hard life and abuse she suffers. The chapters switch between the viewpoints of these two protagonists. There are several stories going on making the book too long plus the author writes many detailed descriptions of various settings with information that seems like it's just to make the book longer. There are well-developed characters in Lina and Josephine. I was routing for Josephine to make her escape and for Lina to find the information she needed in all her research to win her case.
  • (2/5)
    I like the idea of this book and what this book potentially could have been, but I wasn't a huge fan of how it was written nor some of the story line (particularly the mess about Lina's mother). I wouldn't necessarily say it was a waste of my time, I enjoyed it enough, but I probably wouldn't recommend it to others.
  • (4/5)
    2004: Lina Sparrow, an artist's daughter, is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves. Lina's search to find a plaintiff for her case will introduce her to Josephine, a seventeen-year-old slave in 1852, tends to the mistress of a Virginia tobacco farm - an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell. Was Josephine the real talent behind her mistress's now-famous portraits?A very interesting story told in parallel time between 2004 and 1852. At first, it's a slow read, but as the two stories come closer to merging, you will cheer not only for Lina's effort to recognize and reveal Josephine's achievements, but also for her success in finally compensating families of African American slaves.
  • (4/5)
    I'm not a fan of dual time-period novels. Many authors have to stretch to make the historical and present-day narratives mesh or add a fantasy element. Tara Conklin pulls off this trick with skill and finesse. I was fully invested in both her main characters: the artist-slave Josephine and the modern-day lawyer (salary slave?) Lina. Although, their stories parallel with missing mothers, unrealized potential, and overlap with mysteries, it's always obvious that Josephine's life is tragic and Lina deals with what we call "first-world problems." Both make life-changing choices, but Josephine's are visceral and dangerous.Conklin provides a well-paced poignant story with suspense, detailed settings, and interesting characters. My only complaint is a plot twist involving some too-convenient epistolary evidence which I can't explain without spoilers. A small complaint compared to the overall effort which brings us a wonderful tale addressing a difficult subject. Highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    This book held my interest so well I couldn't put it down. The conditions under which slaves lived in the 1850s and the attitudes of their owners are difficult to read about. But there is a mystery involved in an attempt to find the descendants of the "house girl" in order to seek compensation to the family. The details seem plausible and the characters' personalities come through very strongly. Good historical fiction.
  • (5/5)
    Very good book!
  • (3/5)
    The House Girl starts off with an intriguing premise and structure. The chapters and voice alternate between a present-day young female lawyer named Lina, and Josephine, a slave working as "house girl" for the lady of the house. The lawyer is working on a case involving reparations for slavery and must identify someone descended from a slave to serve as lead plaintiff. Josephine's mistress is an artist, and in the present day, the artistic community believes the paintings may actually have done by the slave girl. The potential lead plaintiff emerges during an exhibition of the artist's work, and Lina convinces her law firm to send her to Virginia for research in the state's archives to locate Josephine's descendants. Meanwhile, back in the 19th century, Josephine may or may not have had a baby, and she tries to escape via the Underground Railroad.While all of this seemed promising at first, ultimately this novel failed to deliver. Josephine's story relied too heavily on supposed historical documents to move the plot along. Lina's story included a subplot about Lina's relationship with her father Oscar, an artist who raised Lina single-handedly after her mother died when Lina was very young. The tension between Lina and Oscar wasn't developed enough to be believable; I never understood why they didn't just sit down and talk things out, and why Lina found his paintings of her mother so offensive. And then there's Lina's full name: Carolina Sparrow. Seriously? It sounds more like a bird than a person, and once that thought struck me I had a hard time getting past it.I read this for a book club whose members enjoy discussing the dilemmas and decisions that face characters in a novel. And in that respect, I think they will love this book. I tend to focus more on the writing, and the quality of the story, and was left disappointed by The House Girl.
  • (5/5)
    Josephine is a house girl, a slave in 1852 living with the Bells on a dying plantation with a dying mistress, and dreams of running away. In the present day, Lina Sparrow is a young litigation lawyer whose firm is representing a client suing for reparation against big name companies that profited from slavery in the 19th century.I didn't exactly know what to expect when I picked up this debut historical fiction novel for this month's book club book. I was quickly sucked into both Josephine and Lina's stories. In alternating chapters, the story investigates the nearly unimaginable long-term toll that slavery has taken on an entire nation, while illuminating the lives of these two women with their own heartaches. There is plenty for a book club to discuss, and Conklin's writing has a smooth style that makes for compelling reading. I could have used a little more development of secondary characters such as Lina's boss, her father, and the potential love interest that shows up, but overall I really enjoyed this thought-provoking, challenging read.
  • (2/5)
    This was a half-book. A story of an elderly woman who is suffering from Alzheimer's with her husband and children coping the best that they can. I appreciate the author's idea of flashbacks and retained memories, but I felt like I was never in the loop with what was happening. For some of the book I couldn't tell if it was Marina's actual memories or just a telling of her past. Most of the individuals were not fully developed or just unlikable in my opinion.

    Being at the bombing of Leningrad and caring for the paintings at the Hermitage Museum, is where Marina's story was at its best. However, many questions are opened up and then never fully developed.

    There is a lot of talk about individual paintings in the Museum and their importance to history but then it is never tied back to the story of Marina's escape from Russia, her marriage and her eventual bout with Alzheimer's. Why did she memorize the paintings, did it help bring them back after the war, how did she just happen upon her future husband at a prison camp, what happened to her uncle's children, etc. etc.

    Missing too much to enjoy.
  • (4/5)
    The book is about a woman, in the present who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Her short term memory is shot, but her long term memory, specifically relating to the time she was a docent at the Hermitage (and when she was sheltered there during The Siege of Leningrad,) is still sharp. The author does a great job of describing what someone with Alzheimer's might be going through and; the story has it's moments of triumph and poignancy. It's similar to WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (by Sara Gruen) and THE HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET (by Jaimie Ford) in that the narrative alternates between the protag in an earlier time and a "now" time when they are old; but TMOL has a little more dignity inherent to it in that it's not as obviously emotionally provocative. I spent quite a bit of time at The Hermitage Museum web-site, checking out the art and architecture mentioned in the book. The web-site is excellent, with high resolution digital images and virtual tours; but wow! how I would love to see the place and the art in person!
  • (4/5)
    I think I may have only given this book 3 stars if it hadn't been for the way this book tied into my memories of the Hermitage. I was in Russia a bit over a year ago now. I love Russia, and my month long trip was a dream come true. I spent a couple days in the Hermitage, and it was not nearly enough. I read this book not because of Russia, but because I am reading for the Mental Health Awareness Challenge, and this book was towards Alzheimer's. I wish I got more of the emotions and feelings about this women going through her disease, but what I got was lovely as well. I really love how the women can see the beauty in everything now---- dust floating in the air, the sun rays coming in. How many of us take the time to appreciate the beauty life has to offer?

    I think the author did a great job in portraying the main character slipping in and out of reality. I really enjoy (and I use this lightly because it's heart breaking) how she did a particular scene where the character feels like she is reliving her past and present at the same moment. The book in general is beautifully written. Her descriptions and word choice brings about a whole host of emotions throughout the novel.

    Despite this, the book feels disjointed and choppy, but this has to be taken with a grain of salt because it is supposed to be. The women is going deeper and deeper into her disease and so one moment she is with everyone and the next reliving her past with the siege of Leningrad.

    I'd like to know more about things in the story and incidents that took place; there's so much to the story that I'd like to continue. I feel like this could be my real life, begging my grandmother to tell me more stories and yet she simply does not or does not remember. I find it a huge shame, though understandable, that in this book the children know nothing of their parents' life during the war.

    Overall I think the book is good. I would've liked more though. But I still recommend this book--- especially if anyone has visited the Hermitage before. It's amazing how a few words the author write brings up clear memories of things I've seen in the museum. I am not a huge art fan, so I looked, but didn't study most of the paintings. I love the statues, and walls & ceilings, the Egyptian art, the armor, and I even clearly remember the paintings of the dead game---- I think I was particularly morbid back then. Everything I LOVED was of death, or the cut open game, or whatnot. I was drawn in by the portrayal of these things that were not beautiful but rather haunting or so ordinary that it took someone taking to time to portray it to make you see the beauty in it. Anyways, I'm rambling about things other than the book now. I do hope others read the book to experience these things as well.
  • (4/5)
    Count me in with those who really liked this book. I like the way the author showed me how Marina felt: there were passages which left me momentarily uncertain as to where and "when" I was, much as Marina was experiencing with her loss of memory. There are unanswered questions in the book: Andrei's birth, how the family end up in America. But, Marina, I am sure, can't explain these gaps. Again, the author helped me to genuinely empathise with her character through her style of writing.I also loved the imagery in the book: heating up bottles of ink with your hands; frames without pictures.And, I liked the way the characters searched for meaning in their lives: Uncle Viktor completing his book; Marina's Aunt planning an entire meal around an anticipated pat of butter; remembering the paintings was said to be the only thing keeping Anya alive. This reminded me of Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning"The way the characters wept over small things long after they stopped crying for the dead spoke about the need for people to feel some measure of control in thier lives. So, they mourned that over which they felt they had some control, and not over what was beyond them.I've read some non-fiction about the war years in Russia (such as All Hell Let Loose by Max Hastings), and found the portrayal of life in Leningrad very true to life. I look forward to reading more books by Debra Dean.
  • (4/5)
    The paintings in the Hermitage were evacuated shortly before the Siege of Leningrad. Marina commits them to memory (her “Memory Palace”) to sustain her spirit over that three year period. This is how Dean brings these paintings to life for the reader. You will not want to read this book without summoning the actual paintings on your computer screen. They are really the whole point of the book.One might even say that the advertising term, Borrowed Interest, applies to Madonnas of Leningrad, so central are the paintings to the emotional appeal of the story. Through Marina's eyes, we see an introspective Madonna by Simone Martini, the almost adolescent wonderment of da Vinci's Benois Madonna, and the ripe forms and rippling surfaces of a Madonna by Crannach the Elder. Marina's memories form a sensual tour of the Hermitage's paintings. My advice – make a list of all the paintings in Marina's “Memory Palace.” Then go back and look up the actual paintings. It is in these moments that Marina will seem most real.The story drifts between World War II and the present-day, suggesting the mental drift Marina suffers due to progressing Alzheimer's Disease. It also points out the rich and private lives we live apart from our families – spouses, siblings, and even children. The parts of the book that soar are the dream-like memories. By night the blimps in the sky “swim like enormous white whales through a dark sea. She is swimming with the whales.” This lyricism contrasts with the horror and deprivation endured by the starving inhabitants of besieged Leningrad. Unfortunately, the present-day segments of the story, while poignant, feel flat compared to the richness of the “Memory Palace.” Read this book if you love art history.
  • (5/5)
    Seldom do I read a page turner like this novel, so beautifully written and artfully constructed.Marina is a young Russian woman who is a guide in the Hermitage when WWII and the advancing Nazis threaten. She and her fellow workers must bundle all the hundreds of art-filled rooms’ objects into cases to be shipped out of the city for safe-keeping, leaving the museum bare to serve as a bomb shelter to the workers and their families.In chapters that alternate between that past and Marina’s American present, in which she is deteriorating from advanced Alzheimer’s, we experience the beauty of the Hermitage through Marina’s interior reminiscences as she builds a memory palace of the exhibition rooms and peoples the now empty walls and frames with the paintings – so many of them various Madonnas -- and furnishings that have been whisked away. The chapters segue into each other, merging past and present, like halves of a peach brought together to make a whole fruit.By the end of the novel, Marina’s daughter, Helen, tries to discover this unknown woman who birthed her but kept her own past private by sketching her repeatedly as Marina’s mental and physical wanderings off decline into the abyss of total loss and death.But in life, Marina preserved the world’s beauty unhoused from the museum, was able to “show” it to a group of young cadets, and to the last, as an old woman in the US, again “show” it to a young construction worker who discovers her asleep in the fireplace of the mansion he’s building. Marina takes his arm, points in all the directions of this palace he is constructing and says, "Look!” as if showing him the beauty in the world from within the suggestion of the future "memory palace" under construction. In a way, Marina becomes a Madonna who is but one of myriad works of art that we all are in the museum of the world. One of the most masterful novels I’ve had the pleasure to read this year – complete and satisfying, far-roving and domestic, a total examination of life, art, suffering, perseverance, and love.
  • (5/5)
    Tara Conklin has written a wonderful book about a slave from Virginia and a lawyer in New York City, who was a kind of slave to her law firm. The book flips back and forth from 1853 to 2004. Josephine, the slave, was a house slave whose mistress taught her to read and write and allowed her access to art supplies. Her artwork survived although it was attributed to her mistress, Lu Anne Bell, who died in 1853. Carolina Sparrow (Lina) is an up-and-coming Caucasian lawyer at a large NYC firm who is assigned to work on a slave reparations lawsuit. She is the daughter of two artists although her mother died when Lina was four. Her father has painted a series of paintings featuring her mother, about whom he had refused to say much over the years. The book weaves these stories together pretty seamlessly and ends up as a spell binding read. Highly recommended! I could hardly put it down.
  • (5/5)
    From 1852 to 2004....from one artist to another....from a farm in Virginia to the hustle and bustle of New York City.THE HOUSE GIRL flawlessly switches between these two time periods telling of the life of Josephine, a slave girl, Lina, a New York City attorney, and Lina's father, Oscar, an artist. The book leads you through the life of Josephine as she struggles with her decision to "run, it leads you through the life of Lina who is researching families who may benefit from wrong doing during the period of slavery in the United States, and it leads you through the life of Oscar trying to make amends through his artwork. The most significant question, though, along with finding descendants is that of who really did create the paintings found in Lu Anne Bell's home? Was it really Lu Anne or was it Josephine? Corresponding with this painting mystery and the mystery of Josephine's descendants is that of Lina's mother...what really did happen to her when Lina was only four? You will get caught up in both stories because of the great detail Ms. Conklin uses and because of the research. I love "digging" for historical information. As you switch between the two stories, you will ask yourself to choose which life you were more interested in....Lina's or Josephine's....it may be difficult to choose since both were appealing and drew you in, but for me Josephine's story wins hands down for interest.It took a few chapters, but you will become so involved, it becomes difficult to stop reading....you want to know what will become of the characters and the answer to the mysteries.Each character comes alive with the vivid detail Ms. Conklin uses, and she puts their feelings out in the open...you can feel the tension, the pain, the frustration, the longing, and the fleeting happiness they experience. I really enjoyed this book because of the history and the research and of course the detailed descriptions of the characters.The historical aspect and the fact-finding kept me up late. It is very interesting how the farm's kitchen records, crop records, and births and deaths of every person including the slaves was kept. I thoroughly enjoy these types of findings. I also wonder how these records were not destroyed and who would have thought to preserve them. Such foresight....something to be grateful for. Don't miss this book especially if you are a historical fiction buff. This book pulls you in and will cause you to pause and reflect on the human race and have you wondering about the reasons why we do what we do, have you wondering what the reasons are that lead us to make the choices we make, and have you wondering about the reason we turned out to be the person we are. 5/5This book was given to me without compensation by the publisher in return for an honest review.
  • (4/5)
    A haunting atmosphere inhabits this novel as an elderly woman with Alzheimer's remembers her youth in war-torn Leningrad. Marina was once a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, where she worked surrounded by masterpieces of art, and on the eve of World War Two, she helped pack away these masterpieces for safekeeping. As the German army lay siege to Leningrad, the empty Hermitage became the home to Marina and her family, where they lived in the cellar, safe from bombs but not the shortages accompanied by war. Marina spends her time remembering the museum as it was before the war, memories that remain sixty years later, even as others are wiped away.
  • (5/5)
    A beautifully constructed tale of an elderly woman with Alzheimer's who remembers her past much more clearly than her present. Marina is attending a family wedding but she rarely recognizes her own daughter, much less the young couple of honor. Marina's present slips easily into the past, when she was a young woman during the siege of Leningrad, removing famous works of art in the Hermitage Museum from their frames for storage and protection from the ravages of war. She endeavors to remember them all, especially various depictions of the Madonna, as a way of enduring the incredibly harsh conditions of living in the museum's cellar. Dean weaves past and present brilliantly. Though numerous descriptions of pieces of art that may be unfamiliar to the reader can grow tiresome, the author's spare and delicate language perfectly captures Marina's youthful determination as well as the toll of Alzheimer's. Highly recommended.
  • (5/5)
    Author Debra Dean does a masterful job in telling the story of Marina against the backdrop of the siege of Leningrad during World War II. Elderly Marina, whose memory is failing, recalls vividly a time in her life that is largely unknown to her grown children, a time when food grew nearly nonexistent, when homes were bombed, when life itself was jeopardized, and when Marina was one of hundreds who were charged with saving the treasured art in the Hermitage Museum. This well-researched novel will intrigue and enlighten the reader as Marina’s present life fades away into the memories of the past.
  • (3/5)
    Good premise but don't like chapters that segue back and forth though time. Also, ending was incomplete. Too many unanswered questions.
  • (4/5)
    Marina works at the Hermitage in Leningrad during World War II. Her fiancé Dmitri leaves to fight at the front in the war, while Marina is trapped in the Russian city during the Siege of Leningrad. She and her aunt and uncle must move into the Hermitage with dozens of others. They are all staving to death, trying only to survive. The secondary plot deals with Dmitri and Marina’s adult daughter Helen and her struggle with her parents’ declining health. Marina has Alzheimer’s and as she looses her recent memories, those long buried memories from the war come to the surface. The combination of the war story and modern day disconnect between children and their parents works well. Immigrants who survived horrific events during the war don’t often want to rehash their heartbreak, but their children may not understand how their current actions have been formed by their past experiences if they never share them. I felt like the book was a bit short. There are so many more details that could have been included. I loved learning about the real events that happened during the siege. It’s a fictional story, but the author did some excellent research. I had no idea about this whole part of WWII and I’m still curious about it. BOTTOM LINE: A short but powerful story of the Siege of Leningrad. Read it if you are interested in learning more about WWII in Russia. "Hunger has eaten away the veneer of civilization, and people are not themselves.""Over the years, they have grown together, their flesh and their thoughts twining so closely that he cannot imagine the person he might be apart from her." 
  • (4/5)
    I greatly enjoyed this one. The themes involve memory, beauty, art, deprivation, love, the body and our physical needs, and the relationship between generations in a family. The author moves us back and forth in time from present day to the siege of Leningrad in the 1940's. It is a love story on many levels. Marina and Dimitri are childhood friends who fall in love and become engaged before he leaves for the front. She stays to protect the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum where she works and takes shelter. What ensues is inspiring and heartbreaking. While this story is being told, we also find the couple in their later years living in the United States and coming to terms with Marina's declining memory in which her starving time at the Hermitage is more present to her than the present. 4 stars
  • (4/5)
    This debut novel is the 2012 selection for "If All Rochester Reads.....", and the March 2012 selection for my book club. Consequently, I will have the opportunity to hear the author speak in Rochester this week. This story is a beautifully blended, historically interesting,poignant tale of the siege of Leningrad and its impact on the Hermitage, its artwork and staff, and it is also the story of what it might be like on the inside of Alzheimer's. The author, Debra Dean, does an absolutely marvelous job of making the transitions between the past and the present, using events in either to trigger the mental shift from the past to the present of the protagonist, Marina.
  • (2/5)
    I have a hard time understanding all the 4-star ratings. It was difficult to stick with this book to the end. Parts of it were boring, all the detailed art in the museum, etc. It skipped back and forth from present to past too many times. The story was poignant and sad, and the trauma the Leningrad population suffered was well described. It was not my favorite read that's for sure.
  • (5/5)
    This is Debra Dean’s first novel but I certainly hope she writes more. She is very gifted and her humanity shines through this book.Marina was a docent at the Hermitage Museum just before World War II came to the doorstep ofLeningrad/St. Petersburg. Her boyfriend, Dmitri, asked her to marry him just before he was shipped off to the front and they spent one night together. As an employee of the museum, Marina and her uncle and aunt sheltered in the basement while the Germans shelled the city. Marina worked as long as it was possible to box up paintings and other treasures. When the galleries were empty she used to continue to recite her tour as she went through. One of the babushkas told her that she was making a memory palace and she convinced her to continue. Marina had to spend nights on the roof of the building to watch for fires. Usually she had a partner, but one night she was alone and she believed she made love with one of the gods whose statues lined the roof. Of course, by this time the siege of Leningrad was in full force and everyone was starving so perhaps it was a dream or a vision. As the cold winter months went by Marina and everyone else starved and froze. Many people died. Her uncle died first and then her aunt a month or so later.Marina lived, we know because the story also contains a present day story line in which Marina is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. She is soon going to attend her granddaughter’s wedding but she has trouble remembering who is getting married. She even has trouble recognizing her daughter Elena who comes to pick her and Dmitri up. However, she remembers clearly events from that terrible winter and she goes through her memory palace at will.Does the title refer to the paintings of the Hermitage, many of whom were madonnas painted by the great masters? Or is Marina one of the Madonnas? It could go either way or maybe both meanings apply.It was very interesting to me to read Dean’s take on Alzheimer’s Disease. My mother had this horrible affliction before her death. Dean apparently watched a beloved grandmother suffer from it. I guess we’ll never know exactly what the person with the disease thinks. Certainly in the early stages my mother knew something was wrong just as Marina did. I felt something similar to what Elena felt when the end came:Several years hence, when Marina’s body is finally winding down, Helen will feel no grief, only a quiet detachment, as though she is waiting for a bus—it is late and she is tired but she has nowhere she needs to be and it will get here when it gets here. She and Andrei and Naureen and the grandchildren have long since said their good-byes, and Marina herself has left…That’s the tragedy of Alzheimer’s; the loved one disappears before the body is gone. I was fortunate that my mother still knew me right up to the end but many are not so blessed. I hope we find a cure soon!
  • (4/5)
    The Madonnas of Leningrad. Debra Dean. 2007. This lovely, sad novel is the November selection for the Museum book club. Marina was a docent at the Hermitage Museum during the nightmarish German siege of Leningrad. She helped wrap the art works so they could be protected from the bombings as she watched her family slowly starve to death. At the urging of a older woman, she trained herself to remember the paintings in the museum and she would wander through the grand empty halls describing the paintings of the Old Masters, especially the Madonnas. After the war, she miraculously found her fiancé and they eventually found their way the United States and made a life there. We see Marina in Leningrad and today as she slowly falls in the confusion of Alzheimer’s, and the past and the present ooze together in her mind.
  • (5/5)
    This was a four-star book when I closed it's covers. In the two months I've since been pondering it, it's become a five-star book in my mind. Marina's story is told in the present. Her present in the Pacific Northwest, an elderly married woman attending her granddaughter's wedding; her present in Leningrad under The Siege. It is the merging and crashing of her two lives that make this story. As a young woman in Leningrad, she is working at The Hermitage Museum, among many who are frantically packing up the museum's treasures to be secreted away before anything happens to them. Most of the paintings are removed from their frames; the frames left hanging and the paintings packed among hundreds of thousands of the other holdings, on a train en route to somewhere safe. With that work done, their jobs are to take turns standing guard on the roof, and to try to remain alive, while slowly freezing and starving to death. There is nothing left now to distract them from the miseries of cold and hunger except their own internal resources. And so, as the world gets smaller and colder and dimmer, Marina notices, people are becoming fixated. Marina and Anya's fixation: Anya is helping Marina build a memory palace in the museum. “Someone must remember,” Anya says, “or it all disappears without a trace, and then they can say it never was.” So each morning, they get up early and the two women make their way slowly through the halls. They add a few more rooms each day, mentally restocking the Hermitage, painting by painting, statue by statue.Nikolsky's fixation: He sketches so incessantly that at the end of the day his fist will not unclench to release his pencil. The other night, he staged a showing of these drawings. … He had sketched interiors of the cellar and its residents, odd little drawings of their makeshift lodgings. Sketch after sketch showed the low vaulted ceilings crossed with pipes, the clutter of furniture, and the stark shadows cast by a single oil lamp. … One drawing showed merely a hand with three marble-sized pieces of bread resting in the palm. … “My intention was not to suggest anything but what is. These are not meant to be art. They are documentation, so that those who come later will know how we lived.”I found the history of the Hermitage during the siege to be a fascinating story, along with the glimpses of how people managed to survive during that time. Marina's present in her old age, suffering from Alzheimer's, gripped me as well. Whatever is eating her brain consumes only the fresher memories, the unripe moments. Her distant past is preserved, better than preserved. Moments that occurred in Leningrad sixty-some years ago reappear, vivid, plump, and perfumed. . . . The bond that had first brought them together as children existed whether they spoke of it or not, the bond of survivors. … She was his country and he hers. They were inseparable. Until now. She is leaving him, not all at once, which would be painful enough, but in a wrenching succession of separations. One moment she is here, and then she is gone again, and each journey takes her a little farther from his reach. He cannot follow her, and he wonders where she goes when she leaves.But it was the author's way of blending Marina's past and present, making them each the current thing in Marina's mind that kept haunting me. More distressing than the loss of words is the way that time contracts and fractures and drops her in unexpected places.Take, for instance, this selection: And looking around, one can see on the faces of the assembled family and guests the best of their humanity radiating a collective warmth around this fledgling young couple. There is music and tears and words. Commitment and love and cherish and community and honor.And music and more words. Olga Markhaeva recites poetry and Anya sings a song she remembers from her childhood, romantic and sweet. If Marina lives to be eighty, she things, she will never forget this wonderful night.The first two sentences are happening at her granddaughter's wedding, and the next three refer to something that happened sixty years ago in the bomb shelter in Leningrad. I think Ms. Dean did a masterful job of presenting a moment in history with a life unraveling mentally. I can just picture those thoughts of the disoriented happening something like that. More than picture it, I've begun to feel like that sometimes myself. Perhaps that's why this book spoke to me so strongly. Highly recommended for historical fiction buffs, especially if you know someone suffering from Alzheimer's.