The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore
Published: 2010 by Black Cat
Reading Challenge: European Reading Challenge 2012
Last year at the Books on the Nightstand Readers’ Retreat (best weekend ever), one of my new friends highly recommended the novel The Siege by Helen Dunmore. I borrowed it from my library, and though I enjoyed it (I’m never sure if enjoyed is the right word to use when talking about a book with such tragic subject matter – in this case, the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War), I didn’t love it. I’m not sure why, then, when I came across its sequel in the bookstore I purchased it (well, I know why: My name is Suzanne and I am a bookaholic).
Though it is a sequel of sorts, I don’t think one needs to read The Siege before The Betrayal, but it would probably help. The Betrayal begins in 1952, at the height (and near the end) of Stalinism. Andrei Alekseyev, a dedicated physician specializing in children’s rheumatic disorders, is asked by a less-than-respectable colleague to consult on a young patient who is the son of a prominent government official. Most doctors are reluctant to touch this case for fear of its repercussions — giving the “wrong” answer (i.e. anything but the potential complete recovery) could result in severe consequences. However because of his devotion to medicine to the care of his patients, Andrei agrees to take on the case regardless of the risk to his life and livelihood and that of his family.
Meanwhile, his wife, Anna, is struggling with her own job at a nursery, trying to keep up with the bureaucratic requirements of the administrator; and maintaining a household for her, Andrei, and her teenage brother Kolya whom she has raised since their mother died at his birth. Anna lives up to the stereotype of the superwoman — she doesn’t seem strong, yet without her their small family would definitely not survive.
I’m not really sure if there is a specific betrayal in this novel, as suggested by the title, but it does a good job of showing how the likelihood of being betrayed was ever-present during Stalin’s regime. You couldn’t trust anyone and nobody trusted you. It must have been horrible to live like that.
Anyways, back to the novel. Like The Siege, I enjoyed The Betrayal but I didn’t love it. Its historical setting was something I really enjoyed reading about, but there wasn’t enough in the plot to fully absorb me into the story. That said, the ending of the novel leaves no doubt in my mind that there will be another sequel, which I will read — but I think I will pick it up once my library gets its copy.