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

PURCHASE LINK

Publisher Website

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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#BookReview DANCING FOR STALIN by CHRISTINA EZRAHI #NonFiction #RussianHistory @SarahHarwood_



ABOUT THE BOOK


Nina Anisimova was one of Russia’s most renowned ballerinas and one of the first Soviet female choreographers. Yet few knew that her exemplary career concealed a dark secret.

In 1938, at the height of Stalin’s Great Terror, Nina was arrested by the secret police, accused of being a Nazi spy and sentenced to forced labour in a camp in Kazakhstan. Trapped without hope – and without winter clothes in temperatures of minus 40 degrees – her art was her salvation, giving her a reason to fight for her life.

As Nina struggled to survive in the Gulag, her husband fought for her release in Leningrad. Against all odds, she was ultimately freed and astonishingly managed to return to her former life, just as war broke out. Despite wartime deprivation and the suffocating grip of Stalin’s totalitarian state, Nina’s irrepressible determination set her on the path to become an icon of the Kirov Ballet.

Dancing for Stalin is a remarkable true story of suffering and injustice, of courage, resilience and triumph.

PUBLISHED BY ELLIOT & THOMPSON

PURCHASE LINK

Amazon

MY REVIEW

Wow! If you’re looking for a story about an inspirational woman then look no further! I knew nothing of Nina Anisimova before picking this book up, and was just interested in finding out more about Russian history and I’ve been left gobsmacked by the story of this woman who found herself arrested during the purge of Stalin in 1938, and was sentenced to forced labour in Kazakhstan.

Her story is horrific and inspiring in equal measures as you read what was she was forced to endure under this brutal regime and it really brings home the horrors of life under Stalin. Her husband fought relentlessly on the outside for her release, and their story is made even clearer by the letters they shared and that is where the author found her inspiration. She only came across their story by mistake – what a story to uncover!

Her life before her arrest makes for astonishing reading too, as she rose to the top of the ballet world, and that love for ballet is what kept her going through the toughest times in the labour camps. She would dream of returning to the stage and choreography and you are left in no doubt with her attitude that she was going to achieve that aim, no matter what she was facing on a daily basis.

The background into Russian history was also absolutely fascinating, and seeing how the propoganda and paranoia whipped up by Stalin would make the population so fearful. The treatment of prisoners was horrific and the author pulls no punches in sharing what those locked up had to go through.

The love of her husband was equally powerful – their letters were so touching but always spoke of hope, and he just wouldn’t give up on getting her back. A truly amazing and courageous couple!

An astonishing story that needs to be read to be believed! Powerful!

★★★★★

My thanks to Sarah Harwood for the review copy in return for a fair and honest review.