The Betrayal

Helen Dunmore

The Betrayal

Leningrad in 1952: a city recovering from war, where Andrei, a young hospital doctor and Anna, a nursery school teacher, are forging a life together. Summers at the dacha, preparations for the hospital ball, work and the care of sixteen year old Kolya fill their minds. They try hard to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities, but even so their private happiness is precarious. Stalin is still in power, and the Ministry for State Security has new targets in its sights. When Andrei has to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer, Volkov, he finds himself and his family caught in an impossible game of life and death – for in a land ruled by whispers and watchfulness, betrayal can come from those closest to you. A portrait of life in post-war Soviet Russia, The Betrayal brings to life the epic struggle of ordinary people to survive in a time of violence and terror. 4.4 out of 5 based on 10 reviews
The Betrayal

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction, Historical Fiction
Format Hardback
Pages 336
RRP £18.99
Date of Publication April 2010
ISBN 978-1905490592
Publisher Fig Tree
 

Leningrad in 1952: a city recovering from war, where Andrei, a young hospital doctor and Anna, a nursery school teacher, are forging a life together. Summers at the dacha, preparations for the hospital ball, work and the care of sixteen year old Kolya fill their minds. They try hard to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities, but even so their private happiness is precarious. Stalin is still in power, and the Ministry for State Security has new targets in its sights. When Andrei has to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer, Volkov, he finds himself and his family caught in an impossible game of life and death – for in a land ruled by whispers and watchfulness, betrayal can come from those closest to you. A portrait of life in post-war Soviet Russia, The Betrayal brings to life the epic struggle of ordinary people to survive in a time of violence and terror.

Reviews

The Independent on Sunday

Katy Guest

Historians have written capably about the horror of Stalin's 1952 "Doctors' Plot", as they have written about the Siege of Leningrad which preceded it. But it takes the skill of a very superior novelist to make the unimaginable real. Dunmore is just such a novelist: brave, tender and with a unique gift for immersing the reader in the taste, smell and fear of a story. Writing like hers reminds us that human life is always more than just a statistic.

25/04/2010

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The Sunday Times

David Grylls

All novels about typical, decent people caught in the meshes of totalitarianism exist in the shadow of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and it could seem that features of The Betrayal — secrecy, surveillance, interrogation, sex as a refuge from political oppression, “disturbing closeness” between victim and tormentor — are too heavily indebted to Orwell. But this would be to overlook Dunmore’s subtlety: her pitch-perfect ear for giveaway dialogue, her scrupulous recording of everyday emotion.

09/05/2010

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The Spectator

Anne Applebaum

Dunmore’s genius lies in her ability to convey the strange Soviet atmosphere of these very Soviet stories using the most subtle of clues. We know Volkov is powerful because, unlike the ordinary patients in the crowded Soviet hospital, he meets Andrei in a specially cleared and recently cleaned room: ‘It smells of polish, and someone has deposited a fresh vase of tulips on the desk. Extraordinary.’ ... Every so often, the dialogue did ring slightly untrue to me... But the scenery is pitch-perfect

12/05/2010

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The Independent

Carol Rumens

If the feast of ideas is sparse, Dunmore finds a compensatory richness in sensory experience. Every event is registered on the pulse, and often in the nostrils. The tactile qualities of an old, cherished piece of silk, the fragrance of soup or honey, the reek of a prison latrine, all register with eye-watering immediacy. It reminds us that even political animals are animals – responsive, glandular, vulnerable - and the ability to convey the significance of the ordinary is one of Dunmore's greatest assets.

14/05/2010

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The Sunday Telegraph

Lucy Daniel

This is not just an impressive, enthralling sequel but part of an ongoing saga of ordinary people struggling against a city’s beautiful indifference, and clinging on for dear life. It’s possible to be swept up by both the love story and the terrifying history.

26/04/2010

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The Daily Telegraph

Jane Shilling

Dunmore’s lyric gift is at its best when describing the domestic minutiae that seem so unspeakably precious in the absence of security. Her descriptions of a chicken stew, a piece of hoarded green cotton being made into a ball gown, a little cherry tree wrapped in muslin, have a force startlingly at odds with their delicacy... Only when the horrors become real does Dunmore’s power to disturb weaken. The wickedness of what happened to millions of Soviets has become so familiar that it is hard to find original ways to write about it.

25/04/2010

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The Daily Mail

Helen Brown

Dunmore chillingly evokes the atmosphere of Soviet suspicion, where whispered rumours and petty grievances metastasise into lies and denunciations. A gripping - if gruelling - read.

27/04/2010

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The Financial Times

Scarlett Thomas

What seems to be a celebration of ordinary values and honesty can, at times, seem like a celebration of the banal, but it does provoke some interesting questions. Do we fight starvation and repression for the right to be special, or simply to be? Should we fight just for our own families, or for others as well? This is such a page-turner, and is in places so gruesome, that reading it becomes more visceral than intellectual, and these questions fall away. Still, it remains that any serious novel that uses a repressive regime as a setting must either have something new to say about the regime or must use it to ask something important about life itself.

19/04/2010

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The Guardian

Susanna Rustin

Unlike The Siege, which was essentially descriptive, The Betrayal relies for its effects on the characters and story Dunmore has made up. Her research is meticulous, and details of the workings of Soviet bureaucracy, hospital life and Leningrad in the 1950s are expertly stitched in... But the novel is not morally complicated. Everyone with whom we are encouraged to sympathise seems beyond reproach.

08/05/2010

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Times Literary Supplement

Catriona Kelly

The thoroughly depressing period of Leningrad’s history from 1946 onwards has been less seductive to remembrance [than the Siege of Leningrad]. It is hard for outsiders to capture the time and place. Dunmore evokes some things very well – for instance, the desperation of post-war social gatherings, “the women doctors with their hair tightly curled and their ill-fitting, hopeful dresses, the men outnumbered and drinking too much”. At the same time, the sheer bleakness of the era often proves elusive.

30/04/2010

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