20BooksOfSummer2022 THE GIRL FROM THE HERMITAGE by MOLLY GARTLAND #BookReview

ABOUT THE BOOK

It is December 1941, and eight-year-old Galina and her friend Katya are caught in the siege of Leningrad, eating soup made of wallpaper, with the occasional luxury of a dead rat. Galina’s artist father Mikhail has been kept away from the front to help save the treasures of the Hermitage. Its cellars could now provide a safe haven, provided Mikhail can navigate the perils of a portrait commission from one of Stalin’s colonels. Nearly 40 years later, Galina herself is a teacher at the Leningrad Art Institute. What ought to be a celebratory weekend at her forest dacha turns sour when she makes an unwelcome discovery. The painting she embarks upon that day will hold a grim significance for the rest of her life, as the old Soviet Union makes way for the new Russia and Galina’s familiar world changes out of all recognition. Warm, wise and utterly enthralling, Molly Gartland’s debut novel guides us from the old communist world, with its obvious terrors and its more surprising comforts, into the glitz and bling of 21st-century St. Petersburg. Galina’s story is at once a compelling page-turner and an insightful meditation on ageing and nostalgia.

PUBLISHED BY LIGHTNING BOOKS

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MY REVIEW

This is book 11 of my 20 Books of Summer 2022.

This was an often haunting read, as we followed the story of Galina from childhood to late adulthood as she lives through history and the changing face of Russia. It gives a real insight into the way that the country used to run, alongside the promise and downsides to the new promiseland that a new regime brings.

The Battle of Leningrad is where the story starts and Galina and her friend Vera are caught up in it, having to survive on rats and wallpaper soup and the story gives a real sense of how it hit the population. Her father is an artist and sees another side to the War as he’s commissioned to paint for a prominent General. The sacrifices he has to make to keep his family fed are starkly brought to life.

We then follow Galina over the years as she begins her own working life, motherhood and seeing how she fares when faced with ‘wealth’ considering how she grew up. She sees the good and bad in the new ways of life, that many can’t understand.

This is a story based on a painting that the author bought which got her thinking about the life of the artist, and this story is a powerful tale and one that has opened my eyes to the horrors that many lived through.

★★★★

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