Friday, August 3, 2007

The End of Sorrows: A Novel of the Siege of Leningrad in WWII by JV Love

A love that would not die . . .
A city that would not surrender . . .
A war that knew no bounds . . .

The date is June 21st, 1941, and Adolf Hitler is about to lead Germany into what would become one the bloodiest, most barbaric wars the world would ever know. His invasion plan, Operation Barbarossa, calls for talking the northern Russian city of Leningrad in a matter of weeks, but as the troops reach the outside border of the city, the Soviet resistance stiffens and a stalemate ensues. Hitler calls for continual bombardment of the city and cutting of all outside supplies. He boasts that the city will starve to death an the German forces will march into a ghost town.

Follow a cast of memorable characters - some real-to-life - as they struggle through one of the most horrific human dramas ever created. For 900 days, the citizens and soldiers of Leningrad, Russia endured one of the worst sieges in the history of mankind. Some would find the inner strength that would make them a light unto the darkness. Others would descend into madness. Read their stories, and explore for yourself just what is The End of Sorrows.

I am sure that I should start every review about a book set in Leningrad during WWII with a disclaimer. I first became aware of the events that occurred in this city when I read the fabulous The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. Since then I have read another two books which were either partially or completely set in the besieged city, and whilst each of them have added something to my knowledge or my feeling for this terrifying time, none of them have come close to the magic of that book. This book adds yet more to my knowledge of these events.

The story follows several main characters as they try to live through the siege, either within the city, or fighting to try and save the city, and the story alternates between the various characters, giving us snapshots of their physical and mental states.

The most compelling of the stories is of the relationship between Katya and Felix. Katya is the daughter of a high ranking party official and Felix is a young Jewish man. Inseparable since meeting, Felix and Katya are determined to marry, not knowing that her father is making it difficult to do so because of the fact that Felix is Jewish. Felix's best mate is Dima, son of a decorated war hero - a man for whom the war is a chance to prove himself to himself, and his father, once and for all. Other characters include Katya's neighbour Petya who descends into madness as the city descends into starvation, her young cousin Igor whom she must try and keep alive, and a group of partisan fighters, and many others. There were, in my opinion, too many characters who took up too much of the narrative.

The author is not afraid of showing how desperate life became both on the front and in the city, and covers some of the events that I already knew about, such as the bombing of the trains that were carrying children out of the besieged city and the eating of wallpaper glue as food became incredibly scarce. This was, however, the first book which has included any episodes relating to the actions of the Russian partisans who helped the Soviet Army fight against the massive German army that was camped at the edge of Leningrad for so long. The time that Felix and Dima spent with the partisans was a very interesting section of the book.

At times the narrative is somewhat meandering and occasionally gets bogged down by religious contemplation about how could God desert the people of Leningrad, and indeed about His very existence. There is most certainly a place for such contemplation because of the very situation that they found themselves in, but particularly towards the end of the novel there was too much of it in my opinion.

I was interested to read at the end of the novel some choices that the author made for the story. I am not sure that they are the same choices I would have made were they my characters, but it did have the effect of making the story less romanticised than some of the other novels I have read on this setting.

One note to the publishers - there were numerous occasions during the book where the typing abruptly stopped and then started on a new line half way through a sentence, so perhaps some stricter editing would not have gone astray.

The stories themselves are interesting, but as I said before, needed to be somewhat streamlined, but at the nucleus of the book is a good story, with interesting characters, in an unbelievable, but true situation.

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