Dark. Cold. Depressing.
Soviet Russia has always fascinated me. So has the Second World War. What happens when both meet? Unimaginable horror.
Two years, four months, two weeks and five days of hunger, cold, fear and death. Not necessarily in that order. That was what the Siege of Leningrad was about. There’s hunger that makes your stomach rumble as you read it. And cold that makes you reach out and switch off the fan.
Anna, a twenty three year old nursery assistant who grew up overnight when her mother died . grows up again. This time, to look after not just her mentally disturbed father and five year old brother, but also her father’s lover and her own. She survives the bread queues, she barters food for warmth and warmth for love. She scrapes out frozen sludge from chamberpots and scours burned down buildings for floorboards. She sacrifices pieces of bread and drops of honey for the five year old child, while the father of the child lies in the next room, refusing to want to live. Books that once warmed her soul, warm the room. Leather straps and wallpaper paste become food.
And in this fight for survival, you see the human spirit triumph through people like Evgenia, and the same spirit die when you find people prepared to kill for a crumb of bread or a log of wood. You don’t actually feel the entire duration of the Siege in the book though. It somehow seemed to end too easily ( compared to the real horror that I read about after I read the book) The deaths don’t hit you hard enough, except maybe, the baby’s. Probably because you have not been given a chance to relate to the characters long enough. But it is horrible enough for you to have nightmares. I did.
After reading this, my first thought was that Anne Frank had it easy. Locked for more than two years, in a city with no food, no warmth and no hope, the people of Leningrad didn’t.
And then, if it is even possible, you hate Hitler some more.