The Girl from the Hermitage
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 awayfrom the front to help save the treasures of the Hermitage. Its cellars could provide a safe haven, aslong 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 celebratoryweekend at her forest dacha turns sour when she makes an unwelcome discovery. The painting shestarts that day will hold a grim significance for the rest of her life, as the old Soviet Union makes wayfor 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 communistera, with its obvious terrors and its more surprising comforts, into the bling of 21st-century StPetersburg. Galina’s story is an insightful meditation on ageing and nostalgia as well as a compelling page-turner.
As a history teacher and lover of Russian History this book for me was a stunning read and I was enthralled in the story of Galina from her difficult childhood during the seige of Lennigrad / St Petersburg in 1941 through her life until old age in modern Russia. I have read many novels set during this difficult time for the city of Leningrad and its inhabitants and the intense cold, starvation and the desperation to survive has left me with a strong feeling of how resilient and courageous the people living through these times must have been. We meet Galina and her family who struggle to survive and thanks to her father’s artistic talent the family move into the cellars of the Hermitage after her father is commissioned to paint a portrait. From her childhood we move with her through her life as wife and mother, grandmother and great-grandmother against a backdrop of a country experiencing profound change. The author’s descriptive writing kept me hooked on the storyline and I loved the parts where Galina felt a emotional tie to her childhood and the traditions and way of life which was lost as the country moved to more modern times. As Galina became an artist like her father she faced many challenges in her life and her survial and determination led to for me a very emotional read. This book is for anyone who loves historical fiction, a 5 star read for me and I would recommend for anyone looking to witness a family experiencing life in a country which is changing in front of the characters very eyes.
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Author Bio –
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