I’m sure all of us have been known to let out the cry “I’m starving” from time to time, you know, when you haven’t eaten for half the day, or a meal you’ve ordered in a restaurant is taking longer than expected. But after you have read The Siege by Helen Dunmore, I’m willing to bet you will think twice before uttering those words too often.
The Siege begins in Leningrad in 1941, as German and Finnish troops almost completely surround this Soviet city, cutting off most of its supplies. For young lovers Anna and Andrei, it is the start of a desperate winter, where they must do whatever they can to prevent death from starvation and exposure.
We are right there alongside Anna and her family as they battle with their fear and hunger. The descriptions are vivid, and the detail is almost unbearable, as they try to calculate how long their supplies will last — and whether they can ingest nutrients from leather or wall-paper paste.
In the end the Siege of Leningrad lasted nearly 900 days, but it is during this first winter that the population was devastated. Around 650,000 died in 1942 alone.
From this novel, you will not only learn something of a major event in Russian history, but you will discover the depths of human endurance, resilience and sacrifice. It is not an easy read, but Dunmore’s powerful prose is compelling, and I found it very difficult to put down.