cover image The Betrayal

The Betrayal

Helen Dunmore. Grove/Black Cat, $14.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-8021-7088-0

Dunmore revisits Stalin's Leningrad in a powerful novel set a decade after The Siege. It's 1952 and Andrei Alekseyev; his wife, Anna Levina, a nursery school teacher; and her younger brother, Kolya (key characters in The Siege), have learned to live inconspicuously. In a world in which citizens are expected to be "vigilant" in reporting questionable behavior, attracting attention can lead to imprisonment or death. Andrei is a pediatrician with a dilemma in the form of a very ill 10-year-old boy whose surname evokes terror: Volkov, the boy's father, is an infamous senior officer in the Ministry for State Security. Andrei has little hope that his professional ethics will protect him or his family, but he allows them to guide him nonetheless, and the tale that unfolds is riveting. Dunmore alludes to the arrest of hundreds of physicians, most of them Jews, but for Andrei, the danger isn't that Volkov considers him part of the fabricated conspiracy of "murderers in white coats." The threat is that Volkov likes to punish those who displease him. With precise period detail and astute psychological insight, Dunmore brings the last months of Stalin's reign to life and reminds us why some eras shouldn't be forgotten. (Sept.)