Vivid images of her youth in war-torn Leningrad arise unbidden, carrying her back to the terrible fall of 1941, when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and the German army’s approach signaled the beginning of what would be a long, torturous siege on the city. As the people braved starvation, bitter cold, and a relentless German onslaught, Marina joined other staff members in removing the museum’s priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, leaving the frames hanging empty on the walls to symbolize the artworks’ eventual return. As the Luftwaffe’s bombs pounded the proud, stricken city, Marina built a personal Hermitage in her mind—a refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .
To be frank, I read this book solely because I wanted to join our local book club so I could interact with our adults in terms of reading. I saw the title and was not that thrilled. However, from the start I was hooked. I do not typically read this. Historical fiction is last on my enjoyable reads. The two stories of Marina dealing with losing her memory to dementia and flashbacks to the Seige of Leningrad was amazing. I cared so deeply about both storylines in two completely different ways. The dementia aspect I cared about as my family and friends all know somebody affected. The description was so real. The other storyline of the past with her working to preserve all the art from The Hermitage was really interesting. It is a part of history many don’t talk about, but was a tough period that lasted a long time and was quite brutal.
For the bookclub we Skyped with the author and it made the story even more amazing. She talked about how she pieced the story together like a quilt where she cut all these little snippets of ideas and before her own eyes the story came together. She was working with the character based on her grandmother and watched a PBS special on the seige. She talked about it is risky to write between two time periods because one is interrupting the other story and can be a distraction when the reader really likes one storyline.