The Betrayal

The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore

Published:  2010 by Black Cat

Source:  Purchased

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.

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6 Responses to The Betrayal

  1. The historical setting of this one does sound interesting. I have a Dumore set of books that includes The Siege, I should give it a try.

  2. MoniqueReads says:

    I have read on of Dunmore’s book, Talking To The Dead and I felt that I had a hard time connecting to her characters. I do like the fact that setting of The Betrayal is at the end of Stalinism but I don’t really know if I want to give her another try.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Mystica says:

    I have still to get to a Dunmore. They are on my list.

  4. zibilee says:

    These books sound interesting to me, and this one particularly strikes my fancy, as the story of Anna really piques my interest. I;m sorry that you didn’t really “love” these books, but your review was great and gave me the gist of things. I think I will put this one on my list.

  5. Chinoiseries says:

    I’m a little reluctant to start on a new series (although, as a fellow bookaholic, that shouldn’t deter me from buying more books), especially if the story sounds like it won’t really grab me. It does sound like quite decent historical fiction though, so I may have to borrow it from my local library :)

  6. The novel opens with an emotional dilemma that gripped me heart and soul. Should Andrei treat an ill child even though he is putting the life of himself and his family at risk? After reading Dunmore’s The Siege, it was good to be reunited with Anna and Andrei and see how their lives had turned out (though this book stands alone and you could go straight to it or read The Siege first). They are tender, likeable, brave characters, whose humanity puts them in danger. But this novel is not judgmental of the other characters who live under the restrictions of Stalin’s Russia in 1952. We experience the tensions of such lives, the need for survival, the compromises and the unexpected moments of courage. The novel’s atmospheric evocation of Russia, the powerful characterisation, and the tense dialogue all make this a good read. In the end,this is a love story that keeps you reading. I opened the book and couldn’t stop – I had to know what happened to Anna,Andrei and Kolya. Sparely but poetically written – I feel as though I’ve seen Anna’s green dress and walked in the cold streets with Volkov. I highly recommend this book. Afterwards, it kept going round in my head. A fantastic, emotional and life enhancing read.

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