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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