The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel (Paperback)

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“An extraordinary debut, a deeply lovely novel that evokes with uncommon deftness the terrible, heartbreaking beauty that is life in wartime. Like the glorious ghosts of the paintings in the Hermitage that lie at the heart of the story, Dean’s exquisite prose shimmers with a haunting glow, illuminating us to the notion that art itself is perhaps our most necessary nourishment. A superbly graceful novel.”  — Chang-Rae Lee, New York Times Bestselling author of Aloft and Native Speaker

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, carrying her back to the terrible fall of 1941, when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and the German army's approach signaled the beginning of what would be a long, torturous siege on the city. As the people braved starvation, bitter cold, and a relentless German onslaught, Marina joined other staff members in removing the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, leaving the frames hanging empty on the walls to symbolize the artworks' eventual return. As the Luftwaffe's bombs pounded the proud, stricken city, Marina built a personal Hermitage in her mind—a refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .

Praise For…


“An unforgettable story of love, survival and the power of imagination in the most tragic circumstances. Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share.”

“[A] heartfelt debut…[that] switches deftly between the siege and the present…[it is] admirably humane in its determination to restore the dignity Alzheimer’s strips away. What’s more, it largely avoids the sentimentality that mars so much writing about the old and infirm.”

“Dean writes with passion and compelling drama about a grotesque chapter of World War II.”

“Rare is the novel that creates that blissful forgot-you-were-reading experience. This sort of transcendence is rarer still when the novel in question is an author’s debut, but that is precisely what Debra Dean has achieved with her image-rich book, The Madonnas of Leningrad.

“Dean eloquently depicts the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease and convincingly describes the inner world of the afflicted. Spare, elegant language, taut emotion, and the crystal-clear ring of truth secure for this debut work a spot on library shelves everywhere.”

“A thoughtful tragedy that morphs into a tear-jerker in the third act.”

“An extraordinary debut. . . . Like the glorious ghosts of the paintings in the Hermitage that lie at the heart of the story, Dean’s exquisite prose shimmers with a haunting glow, illuminating us to the notion that art itself is perhaps our most necessary nourishment. A superbly graceful novel.”

“[A] poetic novel.”

“Dean merges past and present in prose that shines like the gilt frames in the hermitage.... this novel of memory and forgetting glows with love and hope.”

“[A] heartfelt debut.”

“Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share.”

“Spare, elegant language [and] taut emotion...secure for this debut work a spot on library shelves everywhere.”

“Exquisitely crafted and deeply satisfying.”

“[A] remarkable first novel about the consolation of memory.”

The most-recommended book of 2006

“…this is a novel that dares to be beautiful - and fully succeeds.”
Product Details
ISBN: 9780060825317
ISBN-10: 0060825316
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: February 20th, 2007
Pages: 256
Language: English
Series: P.S.