The Madonnas of Leningrad

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2007, 12:00am

The Madonnas of Leningrad

by Debra Dean

Harper Perennial, HK$109

In The Madonnas of Leningrad, memory is the tenuous link connecting the two lives of Marina. In modern-day America, on the eve of her granddaughter's wedding, Alzheimer's is playing tricks with the old woman's short-term memory, which is why she has no recollection of her grandchild's soon-to-be husband. However, 'her distant past is preserved. Moments that occurred in Leningrad 60-some years ago reappear, vivid, plump, and perfumed'. In 1941, as the Nazis are about to lay siege to the Russian city, Marina packs away the treasures of the Hermitage, where she worked as a docent. In this museum whose walls now hang with empty frames, she and others take refuge - like Anya, a former colleague who introduces Marina to the art of building memory palaces. Using this mnemonic device, Marina 'furnishes' the bare rooms with art. Debra Dean - whose debut has been so well received that art museums are now booking her for talks - excels in delicately weaving magical realism into the gauzy threads of memory. As the devastation brought by war is relived, so its effects are underscored in Marina's sidetrack from reality.



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