The Sunday Salon Review: The Betrayal, by Helen Dunmore

After the 2010 Booker Prize announcement, I rushed out to buy the winner (The Finkler Question), and it looked so lonely in my shopping cart that I picked up a copy of Helen Dunmore’s longlisted novel The Betrayal as well.  I’d recently read — and loved — Dunmore’s earlier book, The Siege, so I had high hopes for its sequel.  It took a few months for The Betrayal to inch up to the top of my TBR pile.  And while it was neither as compelling nor as emotional as The Siege, it’s still a worthwhile read.  My review follows.

In 1952, Anna and Andrei have survived the hardships of World War II and are now making their living in Leningrad.  Andrei is a doctor, Anna is a childcare provider, and together they provide for Anna’s 16-year-old brother Kolya.  They are content and comfortable; sometimes they actually forget the cold and hunger experienced during the siege of Leningrad in 1941.  But life under Stalin presents new challenges that often violate basic human rights.

Andrei’s colleague Russov involves him in the case of a boy, son of secret police officer Volkov.  The boy’s illness is far outside Andrei’s specialty, but the boy takes a liking to Andrei who soon finds himself coordinating all aspects of his care.  The hospital staff know that if anything goes wrong, Volkov will blame them.  And things do go wrong.  Suddenly Andrei, Anna, and Kolya are in danger, and don’t know who they can trust.  The family becomes separated, with each member fighting for survival.

While The Betrayal stands on its own, reading the The Siege first provides a better understanding of the emotional bonds and shared history between the three main characters.  I don’t think I would have cared for them as much had I not “lived” through the siege with them.  And while the tension in this novel is palpable, I was hoping for a bit more suspense and intrigue.  Still, I enjoyed this book and would recommend reading it along with The Siege.

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8 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon Review: The Betrayal, by Helen Dunmore

  1. I was so traumatised by ‘The Siege’ (which to be fair, I read at a pretty traumatic point in my own life) that I’ve been avoiding the sequel. If, however, it isn’t as devastating a read as the earlier book then perhaps I should overcome my reluctance because there is no doubt that Dunmore is an excellent writer. Have you ever read any of her books for children? She is outstanding in that genre as well.

    • Annie, I didn’t even know Dunmore wrote children’s literature until you left your comment. I don’t read much of that genre but it’s still good to know.

  2. Both The Seige and The Betrayal sound really interesting. I don’t know what it is, but I find myself drawn to books relating to WWII, whether before, during or after. I haven’t read too many books that take place in the former Soviet Union during that time period and so am always on the lookout for ones to try. Thanks for the recommendation, Laura!

    I hope you have a wonderful week!

    • I agree the first novel is really powerful, and felt it would “improve” the reader’s perceptions of The Betrayal. I hadn’t thought about The Betrayal actually detracting from The Siege … interesting perspective, Jackie.

  3. Books are like potato chips. You can’t buy just one! I”ve tried!
    I haven’t read this series but I’ve been hearing alot about it and now I’m curious. I will definitely look into it!
    Have a great week!

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