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The Siege (The Siege #1)

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,918 ratings  ·  207 reviews
Called "elegantly, starkly beautiful" by The New York Times Book Review, The Siege is Helen Dunmore's masterpiece. Her canvas is monumental -- the Nazis' 1941 winter siege on Leningrad that killed six hundred thousand -- but her focus is heartrendingly intimate. One family, the Levins, fights to stay alive in their small apartment, held together by the unlikely courage and ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published November 22nd 2002 by Grove Press (first published 2001)
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The Bronze Horseman by Paullina SimonsAnna Karenina by Leo TolstoyDoctor Zhivago by Boris PasternakWar and Peace by Leo TolstoyTatiana and Alexander by Paullina Simons
Historical Fiction: Russia
23rd out of 162 books — 243 voters
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WWII Historic Fiction
137th out of 542 books — 393 voters


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Community Reviews

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Lara
As I read this book on my couch after dinner, drinking a beer and enjoying the warm summer night, I found myself tensing against a monstrous cold that had become so physical that I couldn't unfeel it despite my knowledge that it was only words on paper.

In The Siege, Dunmore weaves together the huge and small stories of the siege of Leningrad in a way that reminded me of The Grapes of Wrath and The Book Thief. It's very effective; the grand descriptions of the land and the cold create a mythical
...more
Steven Z.

On June 22, 1941 Adolf Hitler unleashed Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. The Germans surprised the Russians who suffered enormous casualties and retreated into the interior. The Russians had been warned by the British of Nazi intentions, but Joseph Stalin ignored the British, reasoning that London wanted to create another front in its war against Germany. Stalin did expect Hitler to break the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August, 1939 but he believed he had more time to prepare. Stalin was i
...more
Amelia
As a rule, I'm not one of those people who believes we have to be happy for being born into a time and part of the world where most people have healthcare, running water, heating, food on their tables... It's hard enough being depressed without feeling guilty about it too. But books like The Siege really bring it home that actually we are lucky. It is set during the blockade of Leningrad during which an estimated 1.5 million people died. It is a tale of survival, but not everyone survives. The l ...more
Michele Brenton
I've been given this as a book club read. I've read the first chapter and I am distinctly unimpressed.

I don't like books that break the fourth wall. It annoys me, destroys the illusion and makes me feel patronised. It was bad enough when Enid Blyton did it - but I can't stomach it in an adult read unless it is done for comedic effect or it is a memoir/first person narrative and the writer is speaking in real time. I can't accept it in a piece of work firmly set in the 1940s.

This single sentence
...more
Chris Demer
This is a wonderful story of love amid deprivation and war during the siege of Leningrad. All the more meaningful because I have visited St. Petersburg (Leningrad) and taken the walking tour of the siege.
The Author exquisitely describes the life there - in the summer at the dacha and the planting, writing, drawing. And then the return to the city and the growing awareness that the Germans have surrounded it, constantly shelling, but more importantly cutting off the food supply to millions of pe
...more
Shelley Fearn
Why does this book only have a 3.87 rating? This is an incredible story. Anna, a 22 year old woman, strives to keep her father, her father's former lover, and her brother alive during the siege of Leningrad in 1941. I don't think that I need to give the whole story away. Thousands of people starved during that first winter when the city was cut off by the German army.

Outside of the horrors that the citizens of Leningrad endured, Dunmore's writing is clear and precise. She tells the story without
...more
Liviu
Since the sequel was just longlisted for the Booker and I dimly remembered reading and disliking this one a long time ago, i wanted to make sure and indeed I remembered it well; the main issue of the novel for me and the one that basically made it a fail is the world building; the 1941 Leningrad just does not feel Russian or Soviet; it can be "city generic TM" under very "nasty circumstances TM" in which "characters TM" try and survive...

It may have literary qualities, but it would have better
...more
Tom
Read it in summer.

Very interesting (chick-flick) viewpoint on the horrendous siege of Leningrad. Perhaps a bit slow, by war-book standards, but that is because it is about the people, and non-combatants (if that word has any meaning in the 20th century) at that. I found it oddly vivid, waking up cold and hungry in the middle of the night, despite warm temps and a full belly.

Tom
James Murphy
Helen Dunmore is quite the writer and has written a fine novel in The Siege. It's a novel of a group of characters caught up in the hard siege of Leningrad during the first terrible winter of 1941-42. Though a reader of military history, I know next to nothing about the German investment of the city except that it apparently lasted for, as Harrison Salisbury famously related, 900 days. But Dunmore seems to me to have it right. Her novel depicts what must have been the darkest of those days befor ...more
DubaiReader
The Siege of Leningrad.

The opening page of this book is a translation of a decree, issued under the direction of Hitler, stating that the city of Leningrad is of no value to the Germans and will be wiped out. No mercy is to be given to its citizens, who will die from starvation, disease or shelling. Helen Dunmore's novel illustrates the human side of this announcement; hundreds, thousands, even millions of people struggling to live on rations that could be cut at any time, in temperatures that w
...more
Lucy
It's been quite a long time since I last read a story based around the second world war, seeing as it's the nearest I get to reading a particular genre it is something I read fairly frequently. I don't think I've read anything set in Russia during this time before (or at least not wholly based in Russia) so I was glad to expand my horizons a little. I must admit just recently I've not had much luck with these types of books, often finding myself disappointed, and I was hoping The Siege would be ...more
Sarah
A skillful and intense novel about living through the German siege of Leningrad during the winter of 1941. When the siege begins, Anna is a young nursery school assistant who's been robbed of a career in the arts (and saddled with a dependent 5-year-old brother) by the premature death of her mother. We meet her, and her father and brother, just before the siege, when they're growing vegetables at their dacha and feeling relatively stable, even if Anna's writer father has been classed as too much ...more
Anne
This is an emotionally compelling novel that often reads like poetry. It can serve as a companion piece to Anna Reid's more recent nonfiction account of the siege of Leningrad ("Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944"). I was not only impressed by the beauty of Dunmore's prose, particularly in her depiction of the city of St. Petersburg/Leningrad itself, but also by her ability to weave an astonishing amount of historical research into her narrative, seamlessly and accurately. Dunm ...more
Mark
“ A ring of siege grips the city. Nothing comes in, nothing goes out. And in the suburbs, within sight, the Germans have dug themselves in…There they squat in the outskirts of Leningrad, like wolves at the mouth of a cave.”

Against this forbidding backdrop, is a tale of love and survival. The strength of family and of boundless determination. We follow Anna, a young nursery teacher, her father, a black-listed writer and her much younger brother, struggling to live in a cramped apartment, with dwi
...more
Mary
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Robin Falvey
I wouldn't say I exactly enjoyed this book, that's not the right word. But it does demonstrate a real mastery of language. Helen Dunmore really brings to life the sense of claustrophobia, the closing of the net around Leningrad.

The story of the immense suffering of the people trapped inside the city is beautifully told without ever becoming morbid. A wonderful story of struggle, I felt myself willing the protagonist on, urging her and her loved ones not to give up.

I live in a caravan with no e
...more
Kathleen Dixon
I read הבגידה first (it's set 9 years after this one), which made it rather nice reading this book - I knew their future! And when you come to think about it, that's generally how we get to know people. We meet them at some stage, get to know them in the present, and if we get on really well wit them we gradually find out about their past. So that's what reading these two books 'the wrong way round' felt like.

I'm also currently reading Leningrad: Siege and Symphony, so I'm getting both fact and
...more
Andrew Gray
For anyone interested the experience of the residents of Leningrad during WWII this is a great way to understand the extreme conditions of starvation and cold that killed off half the city's population in the winter of 1941, while the invading German army cut of all the supply lines to the city. If you have been to Leningrad/St Petersburg, as I did in the late 1980s, you will recognise that the atmosphere and mood is captured superbly in the descriptions of the people and places. The deteriorati ...more
Camille
I was bothered by the writing style - Ms Dunmore keeps going from present tense to past tense. I really am not keen on any fiction book written in the present tense. She also switches points of view from first to third person within the same paragraphs, sometimes even speaking to the reader or her main character...
Reading things like "If I hadn't of held her off" makes me want to gouge my eyes out. It doesn't matter that she is trying to give us "country speech", this just looks plain wrong!
I a
...more
Jeanette Jenkins
This novel is brilliantly written from a woman's perspective of war. It tells of agonizing hunger and the two causes of death during the Siege of Leningrad - shelling & starvation. People are trying to survive on very meagre rations. They are pushed to far beyond normal limits of survival because of warfare & the Blockade, which is caused essentially by selfishness, a quest for power & dominance. However, the heroine - Anna - is an example of how someone rises above horrible circumst ...more
Erin
I had a very difficult time finishing this book. Although I am extremely interested in this historical time period, I found this book actually lacking in the most graphic, and descriptive accounts of the starvation and desperation of the residents of Leningrad.
Wendy
Feb 05, 2015 Wendy added it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I guess that I am just not going to finish this one and I am not quite sure why, although I suspect it is because I am reading a hardcover copy and it won't fit into my purse and is not as easy to hold as a kindle at bedtime.
Lauri
A fascinating, and horrifying, look behind the walls into the seige of Leningrad in 1941. Worth the read- it made me really take a look at the food I eat, and the little things I take for granted.
Christiane
It took me a long time to get into this story and even then I was never fully absorbed by it.

Maybe it was the style, mostly straightforward, at times beautifully poetic, but oddly detached.

More likely it was the characters who remained stereotypical throughout the book. Even the obligatory love affair that tends to plague books of historical fiction wasn’t able to breathe life into the story as the young doctor, Andrei, was even more colourless than the rest of the personages.

Though the book g
...more
Calzean
Some lovely writing. Descriptive passages that are vivid and very readable.

But it did not really paint the picture of the Leningrad siege. Yes there was long passages of the hunger, cold, disease and death. But the story only covers the first winter when the siege went on for another 2 years. There was little on the military action and the characters seemed too Western-like. I also thought the love story was a bit contrived. Anna and Andrei meet and instantly they are in love. Then they live to
...more
Angie
Nov 16, 2014 Angie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historical fiction fans
Recommended to Angie by: no one
I read this book after reading [:the winter garden] as I wanted to read more about the siege of Petrograd. The conditions in this city were unbelievable, it was cut of from everywhere and in one of the harshest winters Russia had on record.

It is a difficult novel to read but records are now being released from the people that lived through it. This was another book I had to read in stops and starts as it as I found the conditions and the death toll to be very upsetting. The POV is on one man and
...more
Julie
Stunning- the description of the cold and hunger was so physical it was like a visible enemy outside trying to reach in.
Nick Briggs
I read The Lie and was very impressed by Helen Dunmore. The Siege did not disappoint. This was a human story behind the history of the siege of Leningrad. It could have been morbid but it succeeded in a balanced portrayal with the human misery but the hope and human spirit in adversity. The real success of the novel was the matching of the emotional descriptions to the time and place. The descriptions of the Baltic winter and spring as a back cloth were particularly well done. The characters all ...more
Carol
An astonishing novel, deeply moving. Memorable for the bigger picture of the desperate cold, sickness and starvation in besieged 1941 Leningrad, it is also about one family. 22 year old Anna's daily battle to provide food and warmth enough for a basic existence (boiling paper mâché for what nutrients might be in the wallpaper paste) provides a profoundly moving story. Her complete dedication to her little brother and her novelist father is testament to the courage of the human spirit as is her l ...more
Elizabeth
This was a heavy novel. It was full of beautiful writing, and there were glimpses of hope, but I don't think categorizing it as anything but bleak would be an honest assessment. The siege of Leningrad was a horrifying situation, and Dunmore doesn't try to glamorize or gloss over the plight of the Russians struggling to stay alive. As the book progresses, and their hold on life becomes more tenuous, the novel itself seems to slow down - to become less grounded in real events and more dreamlike. A ...more
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I was born in December 1952, in Yorkshire, the second of four children. My father was the eldest of twelve, and this extended family has no doubt had a strong influence on my life, as have my own children. In a large family you hear a great many stories. You also come to understand very early that stories hold quite different meanings for different listeners, and can be recast from many viewpoints ...more
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“They wanted spring, of course they wanted it, more than anything. They longed for sun with every pore of their skin. But spring hurts. If spring can come, if things can be different, how can you bear what your existence has been?” 4 likes
“They stand close for a while, not touching, but breathing each other's breath. The city is silent now, as if for peace.” 0 likes
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