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The Girl from the Hermitage av Molly…

The Girl from the Hermitage (utgåvan 2021)

av Molly Gartland (Författare)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygDiskussioner
721,913,065 (4.33)Ingen/inga
Titel:The Girl from the Hermitage
Författare:Molly Gartland (Författare)
Info:Lightning Books (2021), 256 pages
Taggar:BP BP


The Girl from the Hermitage av Molly Gartland


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Saga that carries you through 20-21st century Russia. Fails to develop much in terms of context ( )
  albrunk1 | Jan 3, 2021 |
The opening paragraphs of Part One of this compelling and enthralling story describe Mikhail scraping a strip of ‘yellowing floral wallpaper’ off the wall, then holding it over a pot on the stove, gently scratching flakes of paste into the hot water to make a thin soup for Galaya (Galina), his starving daughter. He knows this won’t be enough nourishment for her but, apart from three tiny cubes of bread, he doesn’t have any more to give her. He then has to venture into the snowy streets to get water, something he must do before it becomes even colder and the bombs begin to fall again. As he does so, he sees a pile of frozen corpses just outside the entrance to his building’s courtyard, most are blanketed by snow, but his wife’s body remains exposed because no fresh snow has fallen since she died.
In spite of his concerns, Mikhail knows that by agreeing to paint the portrait the colonel has commissioned, he and Galaya, along with her friend Vera and Anna (her mother), can move into the cellars of the Hermitage, where there is the promise of more food, a school for the girls and is also where his best friend Boris works. When he arrives at the colonel’s home he is shocked by the life of affluence and plenty being enjoyed by the colonel and his two young sons. How can this be right when most of the population of Leningrad is starving? Although aware of the risks he’s taking, he cannot resist stealing food to share with family and friends at the Hermitage … but he lives in fear of the consequences should he be discovered.
Using the spare, elegant prose which would continue to define her brilliant storytelling throughout the novel, I found that within just a few pages the author had immediately evoked not only a vivid portrayal of a father desperate to do whatever he could to save his daughter from starvation (including adding a dead rat to the thin wallpaper soup) but also of a city under siege and a population prepared to go to any lengths to survive. I soon felt caught up in their struggles, concerned to know if they would all survive the harsh conditions they were facing and full of rage about the privations they were facing whilst the colonel’s home was warm and food was plentiful. It’s not often that I feel so immediately engaged with characters, a feeling of intimate engagement which increased as the story unfolded and made me want to keep on turning the pages. Even when I wasn’t reading, I found myself thinking about them, wondering what was happening to them, always eager to get back to the story to find out.
The subsequent three parts, set in 1979, 1999 and 2016 are told from Galina’s perspective, as she becomes a wife, a mother, a grandmother and great-grandmother, a teacher of art and a portrait painter. I don’t want to go into any detail about the developing story because its compelling nature is dependent on the gradual unfolding of not only the personal challenges she faces during her life, but also how she is affected by, and adapts to, the dramatic societal and political changes which take place during her journey from childhood to old age. Although the story is divided into these parts, in moving from one era to the next I didn’t experience any sense of dislocation because there were clear threads which linked them together to form a coherent whole.
I loved the many ways in which the author captured the combination of Galina’s determined, pragmatic resilience, as she dealt with the many challenges she faced during times of turbulent change, with her feelings of nostalgia for the loss of an old, familiar way of life. As the central character, her ‘voice’ was the loudest but, without exception, each of the other characters felt very well-drawn and vivid, with not one of them feeling in any way superfluous to the story. I enjoyed the many ways in which the inter-generational aspects of the storytelling not only added perspectives other than Galina’s on all the changes taking place in society, but also enabled reflections on how past events continued to have an impact on succeeding generations. Similar reflections emerged through the author’s explorations of her characters’ relationships and the changing nature of love, friendship, loyalty, loss and betrayal.
References to art and painting provide a continuous thread throughout the story, creating colourful, evocative images which, for me, added an almost tangible ‘texture’ to the storytelling. Also, the repeated descriptions of how Galina prepared her palette before starting a portrait were so vivid that I could almost believe that, given the right materials, I too could start to paint – quite an achievement given my total lack of talent!
The author worked in Moscow from 1994 to 2000 and I think she has used her knowledge and understanding of the country’s history and culture to create a convincingly authentic story, as well as a moving and thought-provoking one. I enjoyed getting to know all her characters and to feeling immersed in another culture and felt a real sense of loss when I finished the book. Whilst I felt content with the ending, I do find myself wondering what happened next and, as the story ends with Galina pondering how much she should share with her great-granddaughter about the history behind a portrait she painted in the 1970’s, maybe the questions left hanging do provide an opportunity for a sequel … I recognise that Galina is now eighty-three years old but I’m sure she still has plenty insights to share!
With thanks to the publisher and NB for a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  linda.a. | Sep 5, 2020 |
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