Today I’m pleased to be sharing my review for this thought provoking impressive debut novel on the last day of the blog tour organised by Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources and Lightning Books. I’ve added the tour poster below so that you can see the other blog sites to visit. Thank you to the publisher for a digital review copy – my thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift.
Galina was born into a world of horrors. So why does she mourn its passing?
It is December 1941, and eight-year-old Galina and her friend Vera are caught in the siege of Leningrad, eating wallpaper soup and dead rats. Galina’s artist father Mikhail has been kept away from the front to help save the treasures of the Hermitage. Its cellars could provide a safe haven, as long as Mikhail can survive the perils of a commission from one of Stalin’s colonels.
Three decades on, Galina is a teacher at the Leningrad Art Institute. What ought to be a celebratory weekend at her forest dacha turns sour when she makes an unwelcome discovery. The painting she starts that day will hold a grim significance for the rest of her life, as the old Soviet Union makes way for the new Russia and her world changes out of all recognition.
Warm, wise and utterly enthralling, Molly Gartland’s debut novel guides us from the old communist era, with its obvious terrors and its more surprising comforts, into the bling of 21st-century St Petersburg. Galina’s story is an insightful meditation on ageing and nostalgia as well as a compelling page-turner.
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As regular readers of my blog may notice, I have been reading and reviewing a large number of books set in the last century and especially with links to the history of World War 2. However, this is the first one set in the USSR/Russia.
The opening chapters are heartbreaking. We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic but the way Molly Gartland brings the siege of Leningrad to life, makes you realise how different our lockdown experience has been. Parents starving to death to try to save the lives of their children and eating the wallpaper paste off the walls as a gruel. Moving to the Hermitage offers Galina the opportunity to survive the siege if her father can paint a portrait of the children of a senior Army figure in time. Hearing the description of rat and cat stews whilst her father paints a plump son of the Army hierarchy shows the contrast in the lives of the various children of the Soviet Union.
The story continues as Galina grows up, following in the creative footsteps of her artist father, and we meet her again as a mother of an 18 year old, then as grandmother and a great grandmother. During these times Leningrad has become St Petersburg and the grip of communism weakened as the Berlin Wall fell and the era of perestroika began. As a Westerner I had assumed that life would be much improved as the changes occurred but as Molly explains via Galina and her family, this wasn’t actually the case for many people.
Thank you to Molly Gartland for writing this thought provoking book, inspired by a painting she bought. I look forward to reading more from Molly Gartland in the future, and have given her debut novel 5 stars.
Originally from Michigan, Molly Gartland worked in Moscow from 1994 to 2000 and has been fascinated by Russian culture ever since.
She has an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University, Twickenham and lives in London.
The manuscript for her debut novel The Girl from the Hermitage was shortlisted for the Impress Prize and longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, the Bath Novel Award and Grindstone Novel Award.
Social Media Links – @molbobolly Twitter