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The Madonnas of Leningrad

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  16,658 ratings  ·  2,160 reviews
Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. And while the elderly Russian woman cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—her distant past is preserved: vivid images that rise unbidden of her youth in war-torn Leningrad.

In the fall of 1941, the German army approached t
Paperback, 228 pages
Published February 20th 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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 ·  16,658 ratings  ·  2,160 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Oct 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Debra Dean - image from her Facebook pages

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
Melodie Williams
Jan 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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
The Madonnas of Leningrad is the debut novel by Debra Dean that I have wanted to read for quite some time. This was not at all what I expected and I must say that I was enthralled with this beautiful book and all of its stunning and poetic imagery. It may be one of my all-time favorites on many different levels. The descriptive passages, particularly that of the beautiful paintings and sculptures throughout the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, as well as the palpable fear, suffering and heartbreak ...more
Aug 11, 2007 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
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
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
I found this awfully dull at times. Not one of my favorites.
Dec 31, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Maudeen Wachsmith
Jun 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Connie G
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
Mary Etta
Apr 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think I was in the right place and the right frame of mind for this story. It started off a little slow for me, but the war time story in Leningrad and the paintings and art in the museum, and the characters especially, were so real. I spent hours Googling the paintings that were described. The present story of the same elderly woman with memory issues was sad and haunting. A well done story and definitely worth reading.
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Madonnas of Leningrad

I enjoyed this book so much, especially the vivid descriptions of the priceless works of art located in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) at the time of World War II. The author brings these paintings to life; although you can imagine them perfectly well, I became interested enough to google each painting and study it as I read Debra Dean’s description.

Through Dean’s main character, Marina, we learn so much about the siege of Leningrad by the German arm
Robert Strandquist
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: while-in-belgium
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
Catherine Stirling
Jan 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
David Schaafsma
I would never have read this book were it not for Roseanne, who is in a Novels about Art bookclub and highly recommended this to me. It features lyrical writing and relates the complex interrelations of aging, family, the siege of Leningrad, and the art of the Hermitage and Alzheimers. It tacks back and forth between the main character Marina's memories of 1941 Leningrad, scenes of contemporary Seattle and short literary portraits of great paintings that were housed at the Hermitage. I wouldn't ...more
Oct 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
May 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was a very moving story about a woman who has Alzheimer's and in the course of her disease, she remembers her earlier life during the Seige of Leningrad. She lived in the Hermitage during the seige and one of the things that she did was memorize the rooms so that she could tell the people about the art that had been removed, basically giving them an imaginary tour. The story compares the fear of the unknown during the course of her disease with uncertainty of living day to day during the se ...more
Jul 18, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Aug 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marina sometimes can't remember the names of people, or what she is doing, but she has no trouble remembering her days during the German bombing of Leningrad when she worked to protect the artistic treasures of the Hermitage. This is a different perspective of a period of WWII. Alternately, the story goes from current day where Marina's husband and family struggle with Marina's mental failure and eventually her disappearance and the day-to-day struggle for existence as the world around them is d ...more
Mal Warwick
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: trade-fiction
Americans tend to think that the United States won World War II. Some even seem to believe we did so single-handedly. But while that may be substantially true in the case of the Pacific War against Imperial Japan, it was most assuredly not so in Europe. For one thing, the war there had been raging in earnest for three years before the first US troops entered the fighting—in North Africa. US forces didn't set foot in substantial numbers on European soil until July 1943 with the invasion of Sicily ...more
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars
The Madonnas of Leningrad sounds like a book I would love. It is about an elderly Russian woman with Alzheimers who can not remember details about her current day-to-day life, but is constantly experiencing flashbacks to her teenage years during the Leningrad blockade. I first read about Hitler's siege of Leningrad and the resulting starvation of thousands of Russian civilians in The Bronze Horseman and was blown away by the suffering that took place during that time. I find the subject so inter ...more
Elizabeth  Higginbotham
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Diane S ☔
Jul 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Loved the descriptions of the paintings in the Hermitage, this was the highlight of the novel for me. I had a hard time connecting with the characters, not sure if it was the back and forth, but I also felt a lack of emotion. Did like the history conveyed, the German blitz of Leningrad, but I just wanted a little more of something. Alzheimer's is a terrible disease and I did feel very sorry for the family and Marina, who could still remember the paintings from the past, but had trouble with the ...more
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Russian history and a love story all in one 2 63 Apr 03, 2013 09:32AM  
Russian history and a love story all in one 1 18 May 05, 2007 11:06AM  

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Debra Dean is the bestselling author of four critically acclaimed books that have been published in twenty-two languages. Her debut 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. Her newest book is HIDDEN TAPESTRY: JAN YOORS, HIS TWO WIVES, AND THE WAR THAT MADE THE ...more

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