Notes from the Blockade by Lydia Ginzburg

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Notes from the Blockade by Lydia Ginzburg

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Andy Heath
Reviewed by Andy Heath
Summary: 'Notes from the Blockade' is a remarkable account of survival. It tells the authors story of the 900-day siege of Leningrad during World War II. In beautiful prose, it describes the minutiae of day-to-day life in the besieged city with moving humanity.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 978-0099583387

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With the scenes from war torn Syria brought to our screens every night, 'Notes from the Blockade' is a timely book. It is the remarkable story of Lydia Ginzburg's survival during the 900-day siege of Leningrad during World War 2. With beautiful prose full of Russian melancholy and pragmatism, it details daily life in the besieged city. I have to confess that I found this to be one of the most moving books that it has ever been my pleasure to read. Pleasure may be a strange choice of words to describe a book recounting horrifying events, but it came from the lyrical quality of the writing. Ginzburg's prose is simply beautiful. Her descriptions of the minutiae of everyday life, as it descends into the abyss, are the most human I have encountered. It is this that leaves its mark long after the final page is turned.

Confronted with images of war, there is an abstract quality to them. We see so many that we can become numb to human suffering. We are rightly outraged at the unjust treatment of fellow human beings but it happens so often we can overcome our outrage and move back to our daily lives. 'Notes from the Blockade' does not directly confront this aspect of war. It is a memoir, a slightly strange one as Ginzburg replaces herself with another character that she names N. It does not follow a plot; it is not even laid out as a diary. It is a series of incidents and observations. These everyday episodes make the book unique. Simple observations of the actions required to survive are interwoven against the backdrop of the siege. There are many, they are human, and they bring the daily suffering to life. A particularly moving section is early in the book. It is when she describes the changes in people's bodies due to the onset of malnutrition. The way she describes the embarrassment felt by people, to the extent that they cover their bodies and refuse to look at them is one of the most emotional pieces of writing I have ever read.

Essentially Lydia Ginzburg was not an author. She was a scholar and major literary critic. After reading 'Notes from the Blockade' I cannot help feeling that its literature's great loss. The quality and depth of her writing would have made her one of the Great Russian authors, taking her place alongside Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. If you want to read an account of what it means to be human in the face of adversity, I would recommend that you make this book your first port of call. A genuine gem and a definite masterpiece.

If you enjoy Notes from the Blockade, you may also enjoy:

Churchill's Children: The Evacuee Experience in Wartime Britain by John Welshman

The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War by Ben Shephard

The Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis by Matthew Cobb

Defending the Motherland: The Soviet Women Who Fought Hitler's Aces by Lyuba Vinogradova and Arch Tait (translator)

Buy Notes from the Blockade by Lydia Ginzburg at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Notes from the Blockade by Lydia Ginzburg at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Notes from the Blockade by Lydia Ginzburg at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Notes from the Blockade by Lydia Ginzburg at Amazon.com.

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