The Betrayal Paperback – Mar 29 2011
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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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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.
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.
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.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Dunmore captures superbly how rigidly and implacably totalitarian systems – of any political or ideological thinking, work. When the received isms must be adhered to, come what may, systems protect their own, and individuals within the systems are aware that who is in favour today may not be in favour tomorrow. People self-censure, self-police, and inform on each other readily, because not to inform on infringements of thought, speak, deed risks the person choosing not to shop their relative or neighbour being accused of complicity and sabotage.
So, entering into the lives of the central characters, Andrei, a compassionate paediatrician, his wife Anna, an artist, now nursery nurse, and Anna’s younger brother Kolya, is to inhabit a landscape far more nerve-wracking and chilling than a mere plot-driven thriller, because life, in that time and place, really was like that.
When the son of a senior member of the MGB, the Ministry for State Security, the Secret Police, falls ill, and the suspicion is that the illness is terminal, none of the senior careerist doctor’s want anything to do with his case, because if treatment fails, and the boy dies, his powerful father is likely to accuse the medical team of deliberate acts of sabotage and subversion.
And, unlikely and fictional as that might sound to those of us who live in democracies, this merely mirrors a real purge and punishment which was happening at the time, the so-called ‘Doctors’ Plot’, a primarily Anti-Semitic drive against Jewish doctors in the last year of Stalin’s life. A couple of political high ups had died, one from alcohol abuse, one from heart attack. A complete conspiracy to murder prominent political figures was constructed, and a series of confessions, naming of conspirators, and the like, fabricated. It was only after Stalin’s death and slowly seeping movement away from such extreme totalitarianism that the fabrication was admitted.
The Betrayal follows the consequences of Andrei taking the compassionate act of treating the young boy because of the duty of care he owes to all his patients. Despite the correctness of treatment protocols, incurable conditions are unlikely to be cured. A grieving parent who is also a powerful, autocratic figure upholding a monolithic system by constant surveillance of thought crimes and worse, is likely to find the need to blame ‘someone’ an easier option than to accept the randomness of terminal illness happening to their child
Dunmore’s plot, characters, background and atmosphere, not to mention her writing itself, are all superb