“If All of Rochester Read the Same Book…” 2012
The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
About the Author
Debra Dean was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. She majored in English and Drama at Whitman College in Walla Walla after which she moved to New York City. After a first career on the New York stage, she returned to the Pacific Northwest to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon. The Madonnas of Leningrad, her bestselling debut novel, began as a short story and was researched and written off and on over the course of ten summers in Seattle. It went on to be a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a Borders Original Voice, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It has been published in seventeen languages. Her subsequent collection of short stories, Confessions of a Falling Woman (2008), won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award. A second novel, Xenia, is due out in summer 2012. She and her husband, poet Clifford Paul Fetters, now live in Miami, where she teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University.
About the Book
A wonderfully spare and elegant novel in which the 900-day siege of Leningrad during World War II is echoed by the destructive siege against the mind and memory of an elderly Russian woman suffering from Alzheimer’s. The novel shifts between two settings: 1941 Leningrad, when the city was surrounded by German troops, and the present-day, as Marina, who had been a docent at Leningrad’s Hermitage Museum during WWII, prepares for the wedding of her granddaughter off the coast of Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. The Madonnas Of Leningrad is first and foremost an eloquent tribute to the beauty and resilience of memory, especially as contrasted to the incomparable devastation that comes with its loss to Alzheimer’s.
The Hermitage houses many of Europe’s greatest treasures. In the Fall of 1941, the collection’s very existence was threatened by the looming German invasion. As German troops tightened their grip on the city, Marina and her colleagues scrambled to evacuate the hundreds of thousands of priceless pieces of art from the former Tsarist Palace. As they did so, they committed the masterpieces of art to memory, creating for themselves and for future generations what they called a “Memory Palace.”
The Madonnas Of Leningrad is a moving novel of tremendous impact, beautifully told. The concluding scene is both heartbreaking and joyful, and one you will not soon forget.
“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.”
— Isabel Allende, author of The House of the Spirits, Daughter of Fortune and My Invented Country
“The Madonnas of Leningrad is 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, author of A Gesture Life and Native Speaker