A young women using her imagination in order to survive the Siege of Leningrad. In 1941, Germany launches a lighting war against the Soviet Union. The Germans had three main objectives, capture the Ukraine, Moscow and Leningrad. The Madonnas of Leningrad is about the horrific winter of 1941 when Leningrad was cut off from the world by the Axis powers.
We are introduced to a youthful pregnant Marina who has taken refuge in the world renown Hermitage museum. Marinas husband has been taken as a POW by the German Wehrmacht. Marina is left alone as a refugee in the Hermitage museum and by late 1941 most of the museums valuables have been packed and shipped to the eastern parts of the Soviet Union in order to not be destroyed by German artillery shells. During these trialling times Marina meets an old grandmother who advises her to build a memory palace. This is a a museum in which in Marinas mind all the artifacts, paintings and sculptures are in place as if they never left. During the wrenched winter of 1941 in Leningrad, when the city had run out of food and heating supplies the memory palace will become Marina's salvation.
Marina has a true fascination with the painting of the Lady Madonna whom she sees as someone she can relate to.
Marina survives the 900 day Siege of Leningrad through the imagination of restoring the Hermitage to it's old self. She is also kept alive on the thoughts that her loving Dmitri is still alive and one day will reunite with him. Marina eventually finds Dmitri in a German prisoner of war camp and after the war they move to the United States to start a fresh and new life together. They have two beautiful children of which she never tells them about her times in Leningrad.
After Marinas settlement in the States the book shifts to present times and she recollect the horrors of the war. The times when the pains of hunger were unbearable and where death was all around. She paints these scenes as if she is the artist painting the Madonna with child. Marina can no longer keep the secrets of her past. And she tells them through her stories as an old women.
Best part of story, including ending:
A very thoughtful book that goes to great lengths to show how parents can hide their past from their children in order to no protect them against a cruel world. Marina never told her kids about her times during the Siege of Leningrad until late in life.
Best scene in story:
When Marina and Dmitri reunite after she finds him in a prison camp.
Opinion about the main character:
Her imagination! No matter where one is or how hard the circumstances people imagination can lighten even the most desperate of times.