The Betrayal

"The Betrayal" by Helen Dunmore (reviewed May 11th 2017)

Sir Antony Beevor, the military historian, said of this book, “A beautifully written and deeply moving story about fear, loss, love and honesty amid the demented lies of Stalin’s last days. I literally could not put it down.”

Our group were of the same opinion, even those of us reluctant to start another book about Russian intrigue. 85% rated it as 4.5 or above and 15% rated it as 3, out of five. Nobody gave it less, making it a stand-out book for the group.

One element of the story involves the relationship between Dr Andryusha “Andrei” Mikhailovich Alekseyev, a young doctor who originally comes from Irkutsk in Siberia and Anna Mikhailovna, a nursery school teacher. Andrei treats Gorya Volkov, the son of a senior secret police officer in the Ministry for State Security. It includes Andrei’s journey through Shpalerka jail, his transfer to the Lubyanka in Moscow and on to Siberia.

Quote (from one of our group)
I read this immediately after finishing another Helen Dunmore book, “The Siege” and found it to be just as moving and absorbing. The characters were well drawn and believable. I felt huge sympathy for them and the dilemmas they were presented with. How would we have coped with Anna and Andrei’s life I wonder? The tension was increased slowly but surely - I was dreading the knock on the door! You could fully understand why people kept themselves to themselves - you had to look out for your own family.

The character of Volkov was what I guess we expect of a Russian official and yet we were shown that he loved his son - so in that way he became a more rounded person.

I thought the descriptions of Russian bureaucracy, what went on in the hospital and life in general in Leningrad in the 1950’s were beautifully written - although I think the adverb is perhaps wrong in the circumstances!

As you can probably guess, I thought the book was a brilliant follow-up to The Siege, I just couldn’t put it down.

So - a full 5 stars from me!

Soon after Stalin’s death, 1,200,000 prisoners serving less than 5 years were released from prison. A senior official said it would be, “Impossible to declare at once that all former “enemies of the people” were innocent as it would make it clear the country was not being run by legal government but by a group of gangsters.”

(our May-June book is "Instructions for a Heatwave").