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Friday, August 30, 2013

Six Days in Leningrad by Paullina Simons

I have always dreamed of going to Russia and see the land of Pushkin and Tolstoy and at least some of the palaces of the Tsars.  Paullina Simons's account of her tour to Russia to research the background to her wonderful novels both inspired and disconcerted me.  She provides a vivid tale of deprivation and poverty.  Her childhood homes are dilapidated and in a terrible state.  Families once had to live in seven-square metre spaces, and things haven't improved - indeed, they might be worse.  Public lavatories are almost non-existent, and the ones that do exist are dreadful.

Still, many of Simons's memories of her childhood are happy in spite of all this, such as the memories of her days in Shepelevo, and she finds herself enjoying the smells of pine and sea air here.  She also experiences the famed white nights, the warmth and amazing generosity of her Russian friends and the delicious Russian food of her youth.

At first she has trouble finding the key to her story.  But as she learns about the terrible losses and fantastically courage of the Russians during the Second World War, she sees Tatiana and Alexander's struggles more vividly, and she knows that she has found the heart of her novel, which is named after Pushkin's great poem.

I really enjoyed this, although I haven't finished the first novel in the series.  I especially liked Simon's account of her relationship with her father, and their little tiffs and heartwarming love for each other.  I also liked her comparisons of the deprived life of most people in Russia with her luxurious lifestyle in America.

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