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The Siege (The Siege #1)

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  2,558 Ratings  ·  269 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 TolstoyTatiana and Alexander by Paullina SimonsDoctor Zhivago by Boris PasternakWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Historical Fiction: Russia
29th out of 181 books — 315 voters
The Book Thief by Markus ZusakAgainst The Tide by John F. HanleyThe Last Boat by John F. HanleyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann ShafferThe Winds of War by Herman Wouk
Best 1940s Historical Fiction
47th out of 226 books — 322 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 25, 2012 Lara rated it it was amazing
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
Caroline Anna Bock
May 22, 2015 Caroline Anna Bock rated it really liked it
Excellent historical novel, which opens in 1941 Leningrad at the precipice of the German invasion, is the story of Anna, an artist and her family and their survival in the siege. Moving. Terrific read for anyone interested in historical dramas of this time period, or who just like a gripping, beautifully written story of survival and love.
Michele Brenton
Nov 06, 2012 Michele Brenton rated it did not like it
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
Steven Z.
May 14, 2014 Steven Z. rated it really liked it

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
Chris Demer
Apr 23, 2012 Chris Demer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical-novel
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
Jul 28, 2010 Liviu rated it it was ok
Shelves: mainstream, read_2010
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
Jan 24, 2011 Esil rated it really liked it
I wavered between 3 and 4 stars. Given its subject matter, it's hard for me to say that I enjoyed this book. I certainly found it interesting and very well written. Dunmore intensely evokes the horror of the circumstances of people in Leningrad in 1941. And in this respect, it is essentially a book about hunger; how hunger and starvation defined every moment and feeling of the characters in that time and place. The writing even simulates the lightheadedness, disjointed thinking and hallucination ...more
Jan 30, 2016 Craig rated it really liked it
Odd to be reading this book when the radio is reporting women and children starving in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya. We never learn the lessons of history.

This book tells the story of another siege. That of Leningrad in 1941. It was encircled by the invading German army for an incredible three years during the second world war. The book tells the story of the Levin family. Principally 23 year old Anna, who has to care for her wounded and enfeebled father Mikhail, and her 5 year old brother
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
Mar 29, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing
“ 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
Shelley Fearn
Oct 10, 2012 Shelley Fearn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel-the-world
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
J.S. Dunn
Apr 09, 2016 J.S. Dunn rated it it was amazing
The sort of writing one wants to re-read immediately upon finishing the last page. Dense prose yet with no excess verbiage nor overblown description, no maudlin sentiments, no heavy-handed foreshadowing.
Oct 01, 2008 Tom rated it really liked it
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.

Jul 29, 2015 Mimi rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2015
It is interesting that one of the books in the bibliography was Journey into the Whirlwind, as the two books shared a common theme for me - about two chapters from the end, I realized that the entire story was not to be told in the volume I was reading. An interesting story that was ultimately superficial, although describing a devastating part of history. Oddly, the sequel does not seem to pick up right where this book leaves off, but goes ahead about a decade. I'm undecided if I will read it o ...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
James Murphy
Aug 01, 2010 James Murphy rated it really liked it
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
May 09, 2012 DubaiReader rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-bk-grp, 2012
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
Jan 23, 2011 Lucy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 04, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it
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
Feb 25, 2013 Anne rated it really liked it
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
Jan 29, 2014 Mary rated it liked it
Shelves: books-read-2011
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 06, 2015 Alyson rated it liked it
Set in Leningrad in the winter of 1941/42 this is the story of Anna, her father and her brother whom she brings up almost as her own child after the death of her mother. Dunmore gives us a little history of the family but most of the action is set over the months from September to December and then finally in May 1942. It is the story of the family's struggle to survive in the cold, starving winter as the city is besieged by German troops. Thousands, possibly millions die of starvation and cold ...more
Robin Falvey
Apr 01, 2015 Robin Falvey rated it it was amazing
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
Nose in a book (Kate)
This is the story of the 1941 siege of Leningrad. Which sounds like a tough, war-heavy subject, and this book is certainly all about how tough it was, but Dunmore also makes it compulsively readable.

23-year-old Anna, her father Mikhail and her 5-year-old brother Kolya are settling into summer life at their dacha, in the countryside just outside Leningrad, when news of the German army’s advance reaches them. Instead of spending the brief northern summer growing their usual store of food for winte
Andrew Gray
Oct 17, 2014 Andrew Gray rated it it was amazing
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
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
Dec 01, 2011 Fionnuala rated it liked it
Impressive for the way Dunmore conveys what it must have been like to live through a seige, in this case the seige of Leningrad during WWII. Less impressive when it comes to the characters. I failed to believe in them fully and I don't know why. Was it because she used names from Tolstoy which caused me to make comparisons subconsciously? I would appreciate hearing other people's reactions.
Jeanette Jenkins
Mar 21, 2014 Jeanette Jenkins rated it really liked it
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
Anne Blunsden
Mar 29, 2016 Anne Blunsden rated it really liked it
This was a tough book to read because of the subject matter. Dunmore addresses the siege of Leningrad through the quotidian lives of the Levin family. You get drawn in to what it was to survive this siege, so much depended on your health, your age and your resilience not to mention where the bombs dropped. Even then you had to be amazingly resourceful.
What made difficult reading was how vile people can be one to another when it is a matter of survival. We like to think that World War Two was a t
Carolyn Mck
Jan 08, 2016 Carolyn Mck rated it it was amazing
I've been thinking a lot recently about why I remember some novels long after reading them while others (even those I have enjoyed a lot) have faded.

The Siege is in the former category - an unforgettable novel about the siege of Leningrad in WW2. I am not normally a fan of historical novels but Helen Dunmore's are usually an exception. She researches her background meticulously but puts characters and relationships in the foreground. The Leningrad siege is one of the horror stories of WW2 but i
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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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