Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Most books that really move me have an element of sadness, but this one is relentlessly depressing.  Marina has Alzheimer's and barely recognizes her children, much less her granddaughter, Katie, who is getting married.  She does remember, however, quite vividly her time as a young tour guide at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad while it was under siege during WWII.  The staff dismantled all of the artwork for safekeeping, but Marina remembers in great detail every painting that inhabited every empty frame.  She endured starvation, bitter cold, and darkness, and even gave birth during this terrifying period.  Her story switches seamlessly between her lucid wartime memories and current day activities, in which she is confused and struggling (unsuccessfully) to appear normal.  Her daughter Helen seems to be the only family member not in denial about the seriousness of her mother's illness, and she doesn't find out about it until the family gets together for the wedding.  Failure to take appropriate measures results in dire consequences, and I silently groaned every time the narrative switched back to the museum. I can imagine how these sections might appeal to an art buff, but I'm not one and found it a challenge to get through these chapters.  I found the modern day sections much scarier, as I imagined myself or my loved ones losing their grip on reality.  I was particularly puzzled about one flashback--the apparition who came to Marina on the roof of the museum.  If he was, as Marina asserts later, a hallucination, why does she make the weird comment about her son's parentage?  I suppose this is intended as another example of how muddled her memory has become, unable to separate fact from fiction.

1 comment:

spywife said...

A good cold day or beach read. Not very deep.