Madonnas of Leningrad, The

Dean, Debra

  8 Reviews

Marina Buriakov, an 82-year-old Russian emigre, is preparing for her granddaughter's wedding near Seattle, while fighting a losing battle against Alzheimer's. Disappearing into the memory of her time as a young Hermitage Museum guide, Marina relives the siege of Leningrad and how museum staff members were instructed to remove the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping. During the siege, young Marina constructs a mental version of the museum, committing to memory the paintings, and their placement. Sixty years later, this "memory palace" is all Marina has left.

Comments from Groups

A truly lovely story enjoyed by all. Incorporates lots of elements: social commentary, history and family relationships. Thoroughly recommended read. Tauranga 015

A great book-loved by all. Lively discussions were around our ageing mothers, senility and how we end up being parents to our parents. Auckland 083

A mixed reaction to the book - which leads to the best discussions. If we all agree, the meeting is a bit dull. Some thought the book was too detailed in the Leningrad scenes, but we all thought the descriptions were vivid and credible. Excellent use of language to convey the descent into Alzheimer's. Abrupt ending. Taupo 006

Everyone read and enjoyed this book. We were amazed at the amount of research Debra Dean must have done, considering she had never been to St. Petersburg or The Hermitage prior to writing the book. An interesting and empathetic book. Waiheke Island 001

Enjoyed by the whole group who thought it worthwhile to recommend to friends and families. The author was able to describe art treasures, especially paintings, so vividly that we, the readers, saw the works and recognised ones we had previously seen in illustration form. Dementia was portrayed with gentleness, yet gave an honest account of effects both on the sufferer and the family. We felt involved with the characters! Much discussion generated , especially as we had read Sarah Quigley's 'The Conductor' previously, another book on the siege of Leningrad. We await another novel by Debra Dean and hope it is researched as thoroughly as this. Katikati 001

We loved this book. It stimulated lots of further research both on-line (virtual tour of The Hermitage) and at the library, which stocked at least one of the author's source books. The discussion was fuelled by quite challenging questions - good to be made to think. This is probably our favourite book so far this year. Wellington 022

We enjoyed the factual history of the book most of all. Like the author, most of us knew next to nothing about the siege of Leningrad, and we were very interested to learn about it and its shocking effects on the inhabitants. The memory feats in describing the removed paintings were perhaps exaggerated but, if not entirely believable, were believable enough not to be distracting. Our overall impression was one of admiration for the author's imagination, and the research that enabled her to write such an impressive novel about a time before she was born and a place she had never visited. Our score was 8/10. Wanganui 011

The book was well received. Some could relate to the family dynamics. For those who had been to St. Petersburg and the Hermitage it was a particularly good read. auckland 290



ASHB 027
Great read and loved by all of us. We only wish it had been illustrated but we were able to supplement the book with web resources found for us by our art historian member! Fascinating insight into a moment in history as well as the descent into dementia. Throw in some complex family dynamics just for spice. The question over paternity was a bit jarring though.
NELS 062
Overall the group enjoyed the book. We found aspects of the siege and the Hermitage very interesting and worthy of further inquiry. There was some dissent on Marina as a character but we liked the description of Dmitri as an old man. Some liked the format of the story between Leningrad and the present day, others not.
Everyone seemed to appreciate 'The Madonnas of Leningrad' for the writing especially, and for the depiction of the effects of Alzheimer's on Marina and her family; exploring this against the background of the siege of Leningrad was challenging but very successful. We had a very interesting discussion.
Great story. Well received by the whole group although some members struggled with the storyline due to personal circumstances. Read like a love story, not just between people but Marina's love for art and the beauty of the world she knew.
PICT 001
Everyone enjoyed the book, learned some history and loved the visualisation of the artwork.
All but one of our 12 members really enjoyed this book. The writing was very good, and the author's grasp of the three main subjects, the siege of Leningrad, the marvellous art, and dementia, was excellent. We learned about Marina simultaneously in her youth and in old age, and there was much material for vigorous discussion of interesting topics, both sad and informative- such as companionship, caring, the memory palace device, sharing with children by parents, of family history, the importance of beauty, to mention but a few. Commended only for thoughtful readers.
AUCK 255
We enjoyed this book, especially those of us who had visited the Hermitage. Created good discussion on how the earlier lives of our parents and grandparents should be shared - often the younger generation realise this once it is too late and the memories are lost.
CHCH 378
The group enjoyed this book and particularly felt the research was huge. Recommended.