I was led to reading The Siege after the Longlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize was announced and the follow up book to The Siege, The Betrayal, was nominated.
I am certainly not intending to read all of the books on the Longlist although I do find prize lists really handy in helping to discover new reads that otherwise would have remained unread. The Betrayal caught my eye as a book I would be interested in as World War 2 and the period just before and after it has always been a time in history I have been strongly interested in. I'm not sure why really, I did study that period at school and my dad has always been interested in it too so maybe that is enough to continue to spark my interest. Anyway, me being the obsessive person that I am - I couldn't read The Betrayal knowing that there was a prequel out there - it had to be read first.
Which leads to The Siege - one of the most amazing and incredibly well written novels I have ever read - let alone one that focuses on this time in history.
The Siege covers the period in Leningrad just before and during the German siege of the city when so many people died from starvation and disease. The book takes a broad focus on the city at times but the main way in which the story is told is through the eyes of one family who are struggling to survive physically and psychologically through this period.
Anna is a young woman caring for her younger brother, father and her father's lover as well as starting a new and tentative relationship with a doctor, Andrei, and we follow her as she attempts to find items of food on the ever decreasing rations available as well as heating their apartment and fighting of sickness during the cruel Leningrad winter - it is quite literally a story of survival.
The book is stark and brutal - the descriptions of the hunger and struggles feel so real and frightening and yet they are told simply with little drama or showiness;
The streets are almost empty. She passes the hump of a body frozen into a doorway, covered with drifted snow. It looks like a bag of rubbish, but Anna knows it's a body because she saw it before the snow hid it. It's an old woman. Maybe she stopped to rest on the way back from fetching her ration. Anna doesn't like going past the park anymore. There are people sitting on benches, swathed in snow, planted like bulbs to wait for spring. They stay there day after day. No one comes to take them away.
The book was honest and tough - it is telling a story of what must have been an unbelievably hard time to live through and survive and I appreciated that the author did not try to sugar coat the story in anyway - I felt so connected to Anna and I was hanging in there with her until the very end. I have now started The Betrayal - despite the tragedy and darkness these are such compelling books to read.