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3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  261 ratings  ·  51 reviews
When German troops surround Leningrad and cut off food supplies in the fall of 1941, no one imagines that the siege will last 900 long days and take hundreds of thousands of lives. As the first "hunger winter" sets in, the city's residents strip the bark off trees, boil and eat moss-covered stones, and trade priceless antiques for half a loaf of bread--and sex for a chunk...more
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published May 15th 2003 by Little Brown and Company
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Maria Ella
A Novella To Appreciate Peace

It was tough to express sympathy to those victims of the Siege of Leningrad without doing additional research.

I've recently learned that:
a. Leningrad is the previous name of St. Petersburg, it may not be the Capital of Russian Federation, but it is their naval base.
b. The geography of St. Petersburg is landlocked by other capitols, and their only opening is the Neva River on the Baltic Sea - where the Baltic Fleet is on defense.
c. The seige took more than 800 days,...more
Sep 11, 2007 Gwen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: read07
For all of Blackwell's descriptions of rare fronds and botanical advances, I'm glad to say Hunger is every bit as organic as it ought to be. (I hesitate to call it a novella -- though it racks in at 129 pages of prose, the text is large and the margins are wide.) The reader is privy to snatches of place and time via the wide ruminations of an aging, unnamed botanist who survived the blockade of Leningrad. There isn't much time for character development (but rather character devolution) during th...more
Natalie Bakopoulos
such a lovely retrospective narrator. oh, god, the ending---I read it once, then read it out loud, amazed such restraint could evoke such powerful emotion. wonderfully moving.
I have a weakness for small, beautiful, matte-paper hardback books. While I'm reading them I can't stop smoothing my fingers over the cover paper. Sometimes my husband asks if the book and I would like to be alone.
The prose is spare and somehow cold in this book. Reading it feels somehow akin to walking through the frigid, snow-dusted squares of a Russian city. It makes you feel cold and sad and hungry.
The unnamed narrator is a scientist who collects plants and seeds to be stored safely and kept...more
Ricardo Lourenço
“Aqueles que se afogam nunca mudam os factos, mas aqueles que sobrevivem ao mar nos pulmões devem enviar as suas histórias em palavras, palavras como pequenos barcos de casco furado, através da distância, do frio, e das correntes de água.”
Sobrevivente do cerco alemão a Leninegrado durante a Segunda Guerra, atrocidade que veio a ceifar mais de um milhão de vidas, um botânico cuja identidade não é revelada recorda a agonia vivida nesse período. Tal como a sua mulher, trabalhou no Instituto de Pesq...more
This is a short novella, a one-sitting read. The prose is delicious, like poetry in places, in the form of short vignettes. It's very sparse and pared down and bleak which is fitting for the subject matter (the siege of Leningrad during WWII). The story unfolds slowly, alternating between heart breaking and stomach griping glimpses of what the siege was like, with richer and decadent descriptions of the narrator's sexual conquests, his relationship with his wife and his international travels as...more
Jan 09, 2011 Daisy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Daisy by: Mary Whipple's review
Shelves: ww2, russia, favorites, food
The only reason it took me longer than an hour or so to read short novel is that I had to stop so often to copy its affecting and beautiful sentences into my notebook. I wrote nine different quotes down. I'm kind of speechless. This was amazing.
This slim book reads more like a short story. I was hooked from the first sentence, "It is not so uncommon for those near the end of their lives to run their mind's hand over the contours of those lives." The unnamed narrator is living in a New York apartment in his old age as he contemplates the years of the Siege Of Leningrad. During that time of "the hunger winter" residents strip bark from trees and barter sex and valuables for crusts of bread. The narrator worked for a botanical institute w...more
Jun 02, 2012 Booksy added it
Shelves: read-2012
I would have given this book a minus 1 star if we had this rating option. And there are the reasons for my harsh judgment.

First of all, for the topics that book attempted to cover (or, touch upon rather) - persecution of scientists in the 1940s and beyond, the 900 days' blockade of Leningrad during the WWII - the form of a novella is an inappropriate form in my option. I agree with Kathy who made a comment that it was a "slice of life" book, however this is not the "slice" to be taken by the au...more
Nancy Oakes
It's not until you finish this story and think about it for a while that it hits you what it was all really about. When a novel can do that, then it's a good one -- and this novel will probably have me thinking for a while.

The story is told from the perspective of an elderly man, looking out his window in an apartment in New York. The man, whose name I don't believe was ever mentioned, is reliving a horrible time in history: the siege of Leningrad (the modern city of St. Petersburg), which last...more
Pete Young
The Soviet Union’s premier botanical institute is the setting for this rather peculiar novel about Leningrad under blockade from German forces in 1941, though the focus is more on the experience and memories of an unnamed protagonist as he, his wife and his colleagues struggle to deal with the ideological extremes of Stalin’s totalitarianism and Trofim Lysenko’s disastrous collectivisation of Soviet agriculture as their nation starves. In spite of the hardships in the worst times of the ‘hunger...more
Annia Ciezadlo
Reading the reviews of this book makes me really sad. A lot of people seem to be doling out stars on the basis of whether or not they liked the narrator's personality. People, this is a book, not a popularity contest. Authors often use unreliable or even unlikable narrators to make points about love, empathy (or the lack thereof), honesty, and our fundamentally irrational ways of being in the world. You are supposed to read it with skepticism, tolerance, and imagination.

I think a lot of the peo...more
Elise Blackwell offers a fictional account of the scientists who saved seeds, grains, and potatoes at the Vavilov Institute while they were starving during the Siege of Leningrad. It is a trim little book of short, evocative passages as the unnamed and morally questionable scientist narrator veers between the slow starvation of the siege to his various appetites, as he remembers both meals and women from his past. It was well-worth reading and will likely spur readers to find out more about the...more
Vic Parsons
The unnamed narrator of Elise Blackwell's Hunger is a contemptible being. The setting is the siege of Leningrad in WWII and the storyteller, his wife Alena and others are the guardians of a storehouse of seeds that have been gathered for posterity from around the world. It's a difficult time - Stalinist purges are as much a threat to life as Nazi bombs. The narrator, above all, is a survivor. Where Alena speaks up against the purges, her husband remains silent. Where Alena takes her guardianship...more
Interesting story. Gives you "food for thought" :-)
Em Nova Iorque, um homem idoso recorda os tempos que passou na Rússia durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial, durante o cerco a Leninegrado. Nunca lhe sabemos o nome, apenas que fazia parte de um grupo de cientistas de um laboratório de genética que, enquanto a fome na cidade continuava a aumentar, tinha como missão proteger as sementes, várias delas raras, mesmo que para isso tivessem de sacrificar a sua vida.

Este relato na primeira pessoa fez-me lembrar um conjunto de peças de um puzzle dispersas, c...more
Bonnie Jeanne
This book is not about hunger, unless the hunger you think of is the hunger of a soul for forgiveness. Indeed, there is a great deal about food hunger in this book as it takes place during the "hunger winter" in 1941 in Leningrad. If I ever learned of this event in Russian history, it faded from memory. I can't imagine what the suffering was like. [return][return]There is one line I have copied to my reading pillow (a small pyramid shaped pillow made of plain muslin that I write quotes all over)...more
A gorgeous, spare, lyrical, and heart-breaking book. The story of scientists defending a seed bank during the Siege of Leningrad and one in their number who can't bear the noble sacrifices the time seems to be calling for. Blackwell imagines starvation with such intensity and meditates on appetite both philosophically and sensorially. A profound reflection on civilizations at war, the ethics of renunciation and survival, and the interpersonal deceptions that shape an individual life. Blackwell's...more
Hunger - Elise Blackwell

This is a short novel about the siege of Leningrad, nominally about the starvation that occurred in the several years that the city was under bombardment in World War 2. The narrator tells us both about the desperation of looking for food and what was being eaten as near-food, also about his colleagues in the botanical institute where he worked, and most of all about his love for his wife, Alena, who was a victim of starvation in the first winter.

Notwithstanding, the narr...more
Sarah Sammis
I am glad I read The Eighth Day of the Week by Marek Hlasko before reading Hunger by Elise Blackwell because it put me in the right frame of mind. Both are very intimate first hand accounts of the effects of the Second World War. Blackwell's novel covers the siege of Leningrad (September 1941 through January 1944) and focuses on the botanists at the Vavilov Institute who protected their collection of seeds despite the starvation faced by the city.

Hunger like The Eighth Day of the Week is a short...more
I was lucky to find this in a bookshop in a Canadian airport - you would never see a book like this in an American airport. The capsule description on Amazon is fairly accurate if you de-emphasize the romantic affairs. This is a quick read - around 170 pages - and a very interesting piece of historical fiction. It focuses on a small group of botanists during the siege of Leningrad. We learn about the hunger of the starving populace and the hunger of these people for love, hope and meaning. The c...more
This book was very short but sustaining. I think the way it scattered around discussing the places all over the world where the characters traveled collecting food within the account of the time of hunger was just like how people react to hunger - thinking about all of their best food memories. I've never read anything about the "hunger winter" before and I didn't really know about it. I'm glad to learn. This book, while short, gathered glimpses of what I imagine that living or dying in that tim...more
I picked up this novel because I was interested in the Vavilov Institute during the Siege of Leningrad. And that is definitely what this novel is about--a rather unique and particular moment plucked from history. The descriptions of nature and food in this short novel (almost a novella) are detailed and lovely. The love story and underlying drama with the war fold well into the historical details that Blackwell researched. It will definitely make you rethink how you view food.
Set in Leningrad during the German seige, as citizens starve and thousands die - the narrator, who worked collecting and protecting seeds from around the world, drifts between recounting the seige's day to day and the time before the war. The book is full of bodies and fruit, and is a short, spare read. I wasn't emotionally moved the way the book wanted me to be, I think, but I was still engrossed, and its a vivid picture of this time and place about which I knew nothing.
Chelsea Adrielle
Although the cover says it's a novel, i still think that this is more of a short story than a novella. I was still hesitating to read this before because i wasn't that moved with the first parts, that's why it took me longer than it would reading the whole thing. I'm glad i finished it because it was sooo good, i feel the emotions of the narrator, like i was also there, starving to death. Such a nice story, totally love how the story ended.
Abby Bartholomew
Interesting story about the war from a more interesting perspective. The choice of main character forces the reader to contemplate what he/she would or wouldn't do when starving; what ideals he/she would sacrifice to momentarily quell a growling stomach. The author points out in the epilogue that one of her points is we can't know how we'll act in such a situation... there's no way of knowing until you are faced with it.
I love Elise Blackwell's sparse, poetic prose. This slim novel (really, it's more of a novella) stays with you for a long time because the characters are so finely drawn and she has distilled so much of the life and times of Russia during WWII into this story. But even beyond the time and place of the story, it's a chronicle of humans and their appetites not only for food but for emotion.
The narrator is not very likable at all. I do enjoy the lyrical way Blackwell writes the story and it really does seem like an old Russian man is remembering his experience. I would have liked to know more about what was going on in Leningrad beyond the narrator's perspective, but, as Blackwell mentioned in the back of my copy, she was not able to find out much herself.
Great general concept, and a fascinating topic, but it didn't hit the spot for me. I've heard much praise for the 'spare' and 'lyrical' writing in this, and its true there were some lovely passages, but the overall narrative danced around the incidents it was trying to invoke. Sort of like paddling atop a beautiful ocean, rather than immersing yourself in it.
May 23, 2010 Dannie rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: own
Despite the low rating I actually recommend reading this book. It kind of flipflops everywhere and I'm not to impressed with the main character, but it the whole thing is thought provoking. I think the writer was going for shock value, however I'm reading another book that would send most people paying their respects to the porcelain god.
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Elise Blackwell is the author of three novels: Hunger, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish, and Grub. Originally from southern Louisiana, she has lived all over the country and currently teaches at the University of South Carolina.
More about Elise Blackwell...
Grub An Unfinished Score The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish Grub Famine

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“She was a woman who cared more about what she was right about than about being right.” 6 likes
“A man is ruled by appetite and remorse, and I swallowed what I could.” 3 likes
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