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The Madonnas of Leningrad

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  13,781 Ratings  ·  1,877 Reviews

Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. An elderly Russian woman now living in America, she cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—yet her distant past is miraculously preserved in her mind's eye.

Vivid images of her youth in war-torn Leningrad arise unbidden, ca

Kindle Edition, 256 pages
Published 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2006)
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Melodie Williams
I really didn't read this book. I was having some visual problems which made it impossible for me to read for a time. The Madonnas of Leningrad was our Book club choice for the month of January and it was not available in audio.

I asked my sister Jane, who was staying with me for the holidays if she would read it for me and tell me about it. She loves to read and I thought she would enjoy it.

A beautiful thing happened. My sister told me the story in such detail and with such emotion that the ch
Will Byrnes
Oct 24, 2008 Will Byrnes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a stunning novel. Marina is a woman in her 80’s about to attend her granddaughter’s wedding near her home in Seattle. Her mind is failing, however, and she is transported back to other times in her life, most particularly to the time when, as a young woman, she worked at the Hermitage. The joy she took in her work there was countered by the horror of remaining while Germans laid siege to Leningrad. It was the most intense period of her life, both horrifying and magical, and it is to this ...more
When I allot the stars I go by my gut feeling, but I do try to be restrictive. When you have just finished a book and think of all the things you liked about it, you tend to give the book too many stars. If you do this, a four or five star book just doesn't mean anything! So this gets three stars.

I DO like this book! A lot. I liked the wonderful description of the Hermitage and the paintings there. Sometimes when you take a guided tour of a museum and you get a guide who really knows their stuff
Aug 11, 2007 Teddy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2006
I reviewed this book for Harper Collins Canada, here's what I said:

The Madonnas of Leningrad is a lyrical and elegant novel about Marina, a young tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, during the siege of Leningrad in World War Two and her loosing battle with Alzheimer’s in present day Seattle. The novel shifts smoothly back and forth from Marina’s battles in Leningrad with starvation and bitter cold and her present day battle with Alzheimer’s, comparing and contrasting the two. During the siege, M
Dec 31, 2007 Clyde rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I am not a big fan of "Mom Fiction" and that is the specific sub genre that I would put this book in. The strong point of this work was the style that it was written in. Take an 80 year old Russian immigrant who suffers from Dementia and watch her have flashbacks to her youth at the Hermitage in Leningrad during the siege of 41. This is all happening as her daughter is planning to take her to her nieces wedding. Yes, this is where the mom fiction comes in. The book spends most of the time with t ...more
Jan 11, 2017 Silvanna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found this awfully dull at times. Not one of my favorites.
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
Maudeen Wachsmith
What a magnificent read this was! I am resisting the urge to start reading it again right away only because I have so many on my nightstand that I want to read. But this will be one to be read again sooner than later. I found myself spending so much time looking up the works of art mentioned in the book and the Hermitage Museum website that it took much longer than it should have to read this 228 page book. It is so beautifully written I found myself reading passages over and over again and mark ...more
Jun 03, 2009 Rose rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Leningrad as a young woman, memories kept Marina alive during the siege and now a memory-eating disease is taking her away. The author paints vivid pictures of the cold, the fright, the hunger of WWII Russia and the cold and frightening illness that is taking her mind now.

This book appealed to me personally, on so many levels.
-My parents born in Ukraine(at that time Russia)and survived the WWII seige of the nazis.
-Art-which I love, (and I also visited the Hermitage museum website, as some o
Mary Etta
Apr 05, 2008 Mary Etta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mary Etta by: SLTribune list of recommended 2006 books
Shelves: book-group
August book group.

The story follow the current and past years of an aged woman, Marina, afflicted with Alzheimer's. Her earlier years are set in WWII Russia when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage in Leningrad. Her later years are set in WA state at the time of a grandson's wedding and her visiting daughter's recognition of Marina's current state of health. As I read the Russia years I thought of my reading of "Angela's Ashes" and my feeling of luxury in having ready access to food and comfor
Robert Strandquist
This work of historical fiction hangs in my memory like a painting. Leningrad (St. Petersburg)is under seige by the Nazis and while many fled, several caretakers of the Hermitage take up residence in the basement. Their lives as tour guides transformed the paintings into life companions. Removing them from the walls, they stored these grand works of art in the deep recesses of the Hermitage's underground crypts. The women who cared for these paintings walked the halls and continued the tours wit ...more
Oct 11, 2011 Ms.pegasus rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: art lovers
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 ce
This book was confusing and lovely at the same time. There were moments where I "got it" and then there were moments where I was utterly confused by what the author was trying to say. The story is about a woman,Marina, who lived in Leningrad during the war and worked and lived in the Hermitage. We see her during the war and then much later in life in America with her husband as she suffers from Alzheimer's. The author's description of the despair of Marina's family at her decline into Alzheimer' ...more
Sep 04, 2008 Denise rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
i was so intrigued by the plot of this book. the setting is both in WWII Leningrad and modern day California. The main character, Marina is a young woman in love in Leningrad (her fiance joins the army) and then as an 80 year old struggling with Alzheimers. I did not get caught up in the depictions of living with the war, which i thought i would. Instead, i was rivetted by the way the author took you back and forth between 1940's and present day, much in the way that Marina's mind was functionin ...more
Aug 06, 2012 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Based on historical fact, this is an original fiction story combining art history, Russian history, and alzheimer's. An elderly dementia grandmother is forgetting everything in the present, including her family, and getting lost in her memories of WWII. She was a docent in the Hermitage, one of Russia's premier museums. When they determined the best way to preserve their art was to hide it from the approaching Germans, Marina made a "memory palace" in her mind to visualize all the missing art on ...more
Sep 15, 2008 Elena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-books
I liked all the references to paintings and art in this story. Some of my best memories of school are learning about art and the artists themselves. This story centers on a young woman who works in a museum giving tours and such before the war in Leningrad. During the war, she stays in a shelter beneath the museum and helps move the pieces to safety. Then the story flickers between then and now with her having Alzheimer's Disease. She cannot remember her family but she remembers the war. Very in ...more
Elizabeth  Higginbotham
The Madonnas of Leningrad is an amazing journey. This non-linear book has us in the past, during WW II in Russia where as young woman, Marina, has to face the challenges of hunger, bombing, and the death of her family members. She is separated from her lover, but their love for each other helps them each survive and they are reunited and eventually come to the USA. We move through time in other chapters that capture the present as the couple, Marina and Dmitri, cope with aging and the wife’s Alz ...more
I loved how The Madonnas of Leningrad looked at memory in so many different ways. Marina is an older woman caught in the tangle of Alzheimer's Disease. She's intelligent and tries to compensated, but has problems with her short-term memory. Her mind goes back to her experiences in 1941 during the Siege of Leningrad.

Marina was working as a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum when the German army was getting close to Leningrad during World War II. The museum staff removed the paintings on the walls
Oct 29, 2008 Heidi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christina, Sue, Mary
Such a beautiful book! It's hard to believe that this is the author's first. The characters are lovingly drawn, and the descriptions are so real that it is easy to imagine the paintings and the museum as she describes them.

The story is spiritually satisfying as well. The bookends of Marina's life are so unbearably heartbreaking, but there are moments of salvation. Although Marina claims to have no faith, her obvious love of art - in particular the religious art with its Madonnas - becomes her f
Catherine Stirling
This is a gorgeously written book that follows two story lines: first, a young woman working in the Hermitage museum at the time of the seige of Leningrad, and second, that same woman, older and living in the United States, slipping into Alzheimer's. One review said you'll read it first for the compelling story, and you'll read it again to really appreciate the beautiful writing. I totally agree. The descriptions -- particularly those of the artwork -- are spectacular, and she captures the exper ...more
Jun 23, 2012 Ruth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just finished The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean. I loved this book. I like the way it weaves past and present, all curled around with the fantasies of dementia. Having written my own (unpublished) novel about dementia, I can see how much better Dean represents it than I did. I gobbled this one down.
Oct 30, 2014 Piyali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a beautiful, compassionate, heartbreaking, heartwarming read this was.
Dawn (& Ron)
This book follows two story lines involving a couple, Marina and her husband Dimitri, in present day and during WWII Russia. The modern tale tells of Marina and Dimitri's efforts at fighting the ravages of aging and her Alzheimer's, while the historical story tells how they met and separately survived the war, with the focus primarily on Marina. As a tour guide for the Hermitage museum, she works with other staff members to painstakingly pack and inventory every piece of art in the museum. While ...more

The Madonnas of Leningrad – Debra Dean
4 stars

(some spoilers ahead)

“Whatever is eating her brain consumes only the fresher memories, the unripe moments”

Initially, I thought this book would be about famous works of art, and it is to some degree. But it is really about the power and pitfalls of memory. Marina is an elderly Russian immigrant living in America. She and her family are experiencing the distressing effects of Alzheimer’s disease. As her memory of recent events decreases, Marina is draw
Jacki (Julia Flyte)
It's 1941 and Marina is a guide at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad (St Petersburg). The museum staff are frantically packing up all the museum's treasures and sending them away to keep them out of the hands of the advancing Germans. Throughout the siege of Leningrad, as the city freezes and starves, Marina and her family live huddled in the cellars of the Hermitage.

If you've enjoyed books like Sarah's Key and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, you'll probably also enjoy this book which
Kenneth P.
This is an ambitious novel by a talented writer who has staked out territory within the human mind. The principal character, Mirina, uses vast powers of memory to catlogue priceless paintings. The artwork had been squirreled away for protection against advancing German forces in 1941. She memorizes not just titles but images, color, light, brushstrokes. She constructs a "memory palace." Indeed she and family members, along with 2000 others, live in the cellars of Leningrad's Hermitage Museum dur ...more
Nancy Pearl made me read this book. Heh. But really, the siege of Leningrad is like a traffic accident for me...I just can't look away. As a history fan, I am a firm believer in reading non-fiction books. I will also tell you that I don't like historical fiction, but that is just a crock. Heh. What I do like is fiction books set during historical eras that I already like and settings in which I am already interested. If done well, historical fiction can enhance a reader's knowledge and understan ...more
Jul 09, 2012 Alena rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I just could not get into this book even though it's WWII, one of my favortie eras and a young female heroine, one of my favorite protagonists. I did feel for Marina as an old woman losing her memory. My favorite moments of the book were those reflections on loss.

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
Dec 02, 2011 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Around the World Readers
Art. World War II Russia. Love. Alzheimers/dementia. Togetherness. These are all themes from this book that pleasantly surprised me.

The Madonnas of Leningrad are paintings that were displayed in a room of the Hermitage Art Museum in Leningrad. Marina, a main character of the story, works as a tour guide in the museum. She falls in love with the art and memorizes each piece of art in the museum when she learns that the artwork is going to be stored in anticipation of German destruction. The stor
Carolyn Mck
Jan 07, 2016 Carolyn Mck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A powerful novel about World War 2: this time the siege of Leningrad. The narrative moves between the present in America, where Marina is experiencing the onset of dementia, and the 1940s when she was a guide in the Hermitage Museum. She survives the bitter cold and starvation of the infamous siege by walking around the museum remembering the different madonnas that used to hang on the walls before the paintings were taken from their frames and hidden from the Nazi invaders. The novel is interes ...more
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Russian history and a love story all in one 2 57 Apr 03, 2013 09:32AM  
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Debra Dean’s bestselling novel THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It has been published in twenty languages. Her collection of short stories, CONFESSIONS OF A FALLING WOMAN, won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award.

Her new novel, THE MIRRORED WORL
More about Debra Dean...

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“You're unusual. That's better than popular if you have some courage.” 26 likes
“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.” 23 likes
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