Author’s debut novel examines suffering, survival and memory
Debra Dean’s first book, “Madonnas of Leningrad,” is a finely written, sensitive examination of suffering, survival and loss.
Marina, a Russian émigré, has Alzheimer’s and is losing her memory. Often, she slips back into her distant past.
Marina remembers the fall of 1941, when the German army was advancing on Leningrad. Marina worked as a guide at the Hermitage Museum. As the Germans laid siege to the city, she helped crate and remove art treasures. When the paintings disappeared, only the frames were left in the galleries.
Fighting starvation, Marina lived with thousands of other workers in the cellars of the Hermitage. Marina created a “memory palace” as a way of dealing with the privations of war by filling the empty frames of paintings in the galleries with vivid recollections of what once was there.
Moving through time, the author describes Marina as an elderly woman preparing for her granddaughter’s wedding. Marina cannot remember the names of people in the wedding party, and her daily routines are lost. Older memories are substituted as Marina goes into the safety of her “memory palace.” Throughout the book, the author weaves in descriptions of paintings from the Hermitage to describe Marina’s life.
Aside from the well-researched information on history and art, Debra Dean captures some sense of what it must be like to have Alzheimer’s. When writing about Marina’s daughter Helen, the author describes how the disease affects family members as Helen gradually lets go of her mother. This beautiful work examines the power of memory and the sadness that accompanies its loss.
This book and many others are available at the Zephyr Cove Branch Library at 233 Warrior Way in Zephyr Cove. For more information, call the library at (775) 588-6411, or visit us at http://www.douglas.lib.nv.us.
– Dan Doyle is a senior library technician at the Douglas County Public Library.