The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean

Imagine hours in your favorite museum, days studying the artwork in front of you. Then imagine having to build your own inner “museum” for the different rooms in a very large museum. I’m madonnasleningradnot sure anyone beyond a curator or a museum guard has done this. I did work at a small museum, and we had to memorize where things were, because objects would walk during tours, even with all the passive methods of discouraging collectors (or children) from walking off with small wire eyeglasses or fountain pens.

If you can imagine how overwhelming that would be (and how much extraneous detail I have about one museum’s collection… because I can’t forget it all), you will understand why I rooted for Marina, the main character from The Madonnas of Leningrad. Debra Dean‘s story of memory, and memory palaces that come to life for others, while describing days of great privation in the USSR during WWII, gave me a new way to think of that era. You see young Marina growing in the USSR, as her present-day self in the USA dims. And through it all, the Hermitage is brought to life through a curator’s imagination, even after the paintings and statuary have been stored in safety.

Again, another gem borrowed from the library, printed back in 2006. Harper Collins has a lovely feature where you can Browse Inside the book here.

So, does anyone else have a favorite book (maybe not WWII related) that I should look for at my library?


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