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Betrayal, The [Paperback]

Helen Dunmore
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 29 2011
"The Betrayal" is the sequel to Helen Dunmore's hugely successful historical novel "The Siege", set in Stalin's Russia. Leningrad, 1952. Andrei, a young hospital doctor and Anna, a nursery school teacher, are forging a life together in the post-war, post-siege wreckage. But their happiness is precarious, like that of millions of Russians who must avoid the claws of Stalin's merciless Ministry for State security. So when Andrei is asked to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer, he and Anna are fearful. Trapped in an impossible, maybe unwinnable game, can they avoid the whispers and watchful eyes of those who will say or do anything to save themselves? "The Betrayal" is a powerful and touching novel of ordinary people in the grip of a terrible and sinister regime, and a moving portrait of a love that will not be extinguished. "Beautifully crafted, gripping, moving, enlightening. Sure to be one of the best historical novels of the year". ("Time Out"). "Scrupulous, pitch-perfect. With heart-pounding force, Dunmore builds up a double narrative of suspense". ("Sunday Times"). "Magnificent, brave, tender ...with a unique gift for immersing the reader in the taste, smell and fear of a story". ("Independent on Sunday"). Novelist and poet Helen Dunmore has achieved great critical acclaim since publishing her first adult novel, the McKitterick Prize winning, "Zennor in Darkness". Her novels, "Counting the Stars", "Your Blue-Eyed Boy", "With Your Crooked Heart", "Burning Bright", "House of Orphans", "Mourning Ruby", "A Spell of Winter", and "Talking to the Dead", and her collection of short stories "Love of Fat Men" are all published by Penguin. Helen also writes for children, her titles include "The Deep" and "Ingo".

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Enthralling. Emotionally gripping ... ordinary people struggling against a city's beautiful indifference, and clinging on for dear life Daily Telegraph Beautifully crafted, gripping, moving, enlightening. Sure to be one of the best historical novels of the year Time Out Scrupulous, pitch-perfect. With heart-pounding force, Dunmore builds up a double narrative of suspense Sunday Times Magnificent, brave, tender ... with a unique gift for immersing the reader in the taste, smell and fear of a story Independent on Sunday A masterpiece. An extraordinarily powerful evocation of a time of unimaginable fear. We defy you to read it without a pounding heart and a lump in your throat Grazia A beautifully written and deeply moving story about fear, loss, love and honesty amid the demented lies of Stalin's last days. I literally could not put it down -- Antony Beevor Dunmore chillingly evokes the atmosphere of Soviet suspicion, where whispered rumours and petty grievances metastasise into lies and denunciation. A gripping read Daily Mail Meticulous, clever, eloquent. An absorbing and thoughtful tale of good people in hard times Guardian A remarkably feeling, nuanced novel that satisfies the head as well as the heart. This does not read like a retelling of history, but like a draught of real life. With her seemingly small canvas, Dunmore has created a universe Sunday Herald Dunmore's genius lies in her ability to convey the strange Soviet atmosphere of these very Soviet stories using the most subtle of clues Spectator Storytelling on a grand scale The Times

About the Author

Helen Dunmore has published eleven novels with Penguin: Zennor in Darkness, which won the McKitterick Prize; Burning Bright; A Spell of Winter, which won the Orange Prize; Talking to the Dead; Your Blue-Eyed Boy; With Your Crooked Heart; The Siege, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2002; Mourning Ruby; House of Orphans; Counting the Stars and The Betrayal which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010. She is also a poet, children's novelist and short-story writer.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Rodge TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This book uses as its inspiration the "Doctor's Plot" (which I believe was an all too real Stalinist-era witch-hunt) to provide us with a strong atmospheric story showing what life in Russia was like toward the end of the Stalinist era in the USSR. The absolute insanity and day-by-day paranoia and terror is evoked skilfully here. The book does drag a bit in places but I believe it absolutely succeeds in what it sets out to achieve. This is no "In the First Circle" but its very strong nonetheless.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars worthy sequel to The Siege Oct. 5 2010
By Carrie Dunham-LaGree - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for The Siege, the first book in this series. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read my review of The Siege.

The Betrayal, a sequel to The Siege, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2002, is on this year's Booker Prize longlist.

The Betrayal picks up in Leningrad in 1952. Anna and Andrei are happily married and raising her younger brother Kolya as if he were their own. Andrei is a successful doctor, but his values are put to the test when the child of a senior secret police officer comes in for treatment and the prognosis isn't good.

I really enjoyed The Siege, and it was wonderful to reconnect with these characters so quickly. In many ways, though, The Betrayal doesn't read like a sequel. Yes, the characters are familiar, and the setting is still Leningrad, but life during the siege and life under Stalin are radically different. Also different in this novel is the narration. Anna's point of view drove the narrative of The Siege, but Andrei took center stage for much of The Betrayal. Dunmore plays with the themes of paranoia, trust and perception beautifully:

"We should panic," she says. "People are destroyed because they don't panic in time. They think it won't happen to them." (p. 38)

Historical fiction can easily seem too grim or too romanticized. Helen Dunmore manages to convey the atrocities of the place and time while still believing in the power of the human spirit to persevere or perish:

They believed in the next world, and no wonder, when this one had given them nothing. But we believed in making this world a better place. (p. 322)

Anna's too young yet to know that the past is just as real as the present, even though you have to pretend that it isn't, and carry on towards the future. (p. 323)

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this novel was Dunmore's ability to take one story, and a one family, to tell the story of Leningrad itself:

Our city is like that, too, think Anna. We love it, but it doesn't love us. We're like children who cling to the skirts of a beautiful, preoccupied mother. (p. 261)

Despite being quite different from The Siege, I thoroughly enjoyed The Betrayal. The tale was more familiar to me, and thus less shocking, but I loved following these characters through a different period in their lives. The combination of these two novels provides a nice context for modern Russian history.

The Betrayal is a worthy follow-up to The Siege and will appeal to fans of historical fiction and literary fiction.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Claustrophobic Stalinist Russia Sept. 6 2010
By Richard Pittman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Betrayal is nominated for the 2010 Man Booker Prize. As I write this, we are a day away from the short list announcement where The Betrayal appears to have a 50-50 chance.

Did I like it? Yes, it was tense, moved very well and dealt with a good doctor who just wants to save lives but exists in a totalitarian regime where you need to play by the rules. The rules are that The Party rules and you need to be subservient to The Party and especially to its highest officials.

The good doctor in question is Andrei who is sneakily asked by a colleague to examine a child. It is sneaky because the child is the son of high ranking official. Since the boy is sick, the doctor that takes the case will be in great jeopardy. Andrei knows all this and still chooses to get to know the boy and to treat him. This is what Andrei believes he must do as a doctor.

Unfortunately, in the time and place he lives, this puts him and his family in great jeopardy. Despite everyone's advice he does what he believes to be the right thing. As the situation deteriorates, Andrei's life gets worse and worse.

This is a very tense book and has a very appealing lead character. It captures the paranoia of Stalinist Russia very well. It is a quick and enjoyable read. This is a sequel to a book called The Siege which I have not read. It stands well on its own though I cannot comment on whether my enjoyment would have been enhanced by reading The Siege.

On the downside, the book doesn't really add a different perspective to the time and place that it is about. It's a simple story in a complex time and place. I recommend it but don't think it has the substance to win the Booker Award.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Sequel Nov. 23 2011
By Miss Melly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a sequel, but it is not "The Siege II". So if you're looking for another tale of survival and starvation, you need to read another book on the same subject.
This novel has moved on from the 90-day seige and takes us into a country stuggling under the new regime. While the first book centred on Anna, this one belongs to Andrei - and his is a worthwhile story.
Not quite as good as the first novel, but a good novel in its own right.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well-written historical novel Oct. 20 2011
By Martin L. Davis II - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The second of Dunmore's historical novels set in 1950's Russia following the siege of Leningrad, "The Betrayal" is effectively a stand-alone work. Although her prequel "The Siege" might fill in further character development and background, this work effectively stands on its own. A thread of paranoia runs throughout the storyline of this well researched novel as a compassionate doctor is blamed for the death of a Russian official's son from alleged incompetency, and the supporting characters suffer on several levels as bureaucratic forces take control. A story of hope and despair, this is a fine account with a glimmer of optimism.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This Sequel Stagnates Sept. 24 2011
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I ended my review of Dunmore's THE SIEGE, set in Leningrad during the German blockade of 1941-43, with the words "the survivors have rediscovered their humanity." In this sequel, however, set ten years further on, the loss of humanity has returned, at least for large sections of the population. Now it is not warfare or famine that they fear, but the tentacles of the Soviet apparatus run by an increasingly paranoid Stalin, where you must remain professionally invisible to keep your job, and denounce your own husband or wife to avoid the destruction of your entire family. The authorities have even suppressed all memorials of the Siege, as ill befitting the image of Soviet action in the Great Patriotic War, so even the sense of shared heroism that lighted Dunmore's earlier novel is replaced here by a timorous despair.

[ALERT: I cannot go further in reviewing this book without revealing the names of some of the survivors from the earlier novel. Do not read on if you want that to be a surprise.]

Besides its overall grayness, this later novel suffers from Dunmore's handling of the sequel problem: too much of it is looking back. She has three main survivors from the earlier book: Andrei, a young pediatrician; Anna, his wife; and Kolya, Anna's much younger brother, who lives with them almost as a son. I found myself yearning for the chapters involving Andrei, because he is someone bursting with moral courage who has very much retained his humanity, and he is involved in a very real problem. Early in the book, he is asked to look into the case of Gorya Volkov, son of the feared head of the Leningrad security apparatus. The pediatrician strikes up an immediate bond with his patient (and even to a certain extent with the father -- a feature which I greatly liked), but when things go wrong he immediately finds himself targeted as a scapegoat. All the scenes with Andrei and Volkov are electrifying, but they occupy less than a third of the book.

Unfortunately, Dunmore is unable to build similar interest around Anna, the protagonist of the previous book. She also is a person of integrity, but in this novel she is forced into a reactive role: keeping the apartment running, fending off intrusive neighbors, looking after Kolya, and hoping to get pregnant. While Andrei looks forward by necessity, she spends most of the time looking back at events familiar to those who have read the earlier novel -- especially the death of her father, a dissident writer whose papers remain in her safekeeping. Even her work in a day-care center, whose gung-ho director is engaged in a research project on "learning outcomes" for preschoolers, is little more than a semi-comic interlude.

One Amazon reviewer criticized THE SIEGE as depending too much on outside events as opposed to the moral choices of the characters. I did not entirely agree then, but I do here. Anna is a moral person, but she has few significant choices to make. Andrei's choices are courageous ones, but they all come early in the book. Halfway through, after events turn against him, he too becomes a mere victim of outside forces; the story is no longer what he does, but what is done to him. Dunmore describes the atrocious conditions well enough, but no better than many earlier authors. A book whose occasional dullness had at least been seasoned with true drama earlier, became a real challenge to keep reading well before the end.
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