ELKOST International Literary Agency

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Leningrad, 2010

E-mail Print PDF

Rights sold to: World English - Dalkey Archive Press, Macedonia - BATA PRESS MILLENNIUM

2011 NOS literary award
2010 "Novyi mir" literary magazine award for the best fiction

 

Vishnevetsky’s Leningrad is a masterful mixture of prosaic and poetical texts, excerpts from private letters and diaries, quotes from newspapers and NKVD internal documents, in which the author fuses rough documentary with philosophical grotesque and depicts the Siege as a moment of truth for Leningrad artists and white-collars. The story is told through the correspondence and diary entries of the protagonists, the Composer, his lover Vera and Vera’s husband, the naval officer intercepting enemy communications for the Russia’s Baltic Fleet positioned in and in front of Leningrad. The love triangle ends tragically when Vera, pregnant from her lover, decides to leave the besieged city but meets a macabre death, while the Composer at the same time mentally collapses and possibly dies of hunger, unaware of his lover’s fate.

The most inhuman conditions of the Siege, starvation and continuous bombing and shelling make the background to the story. For the first time in modern Russian literature Vishnevetsky brings up the issue of vitality of moral and ethical values cultivated and magnified by Russian intelligentsia, and their ability to confront the cruel reality. In their wild attempts to survive the protagonists hold on to their art, ideas, and sentiments over which neither Bolsheviks, nor Nazis, not even the death itself have power.

Vishnevetsky’s narrative departs into highly experimental and emotionally charged discussion of “ultimate questions” of one’s existence. In this regard his Leningrad closes the gap between present-day Russian letters and the tradition of Russian philosophical novel which existed uninterrupted until the 1940’s.

 

Russia's stunningly beautiful second city, formerly and now St Petersburg, but known as Leningrad between 1924 and 1991, has had a unique character since Peter the Great built it as his window on the West at the start of the 18th century. As Petrograd (1914-24) it witnessed the Russian Revolutions of 1917. The Siege of Leningrad during WWII is one of the most moving, stirring, and horrific tales of human ingenuity and endurance in history.

The destruction of Leningrad was one of Adolf Hitler's strategic objectives in attacking the Soviet Union. Hitler's plan was to subdue Leningrad through blockade, bombardment, and starvation prior to seizing the city. The Siege of Leningrad was a prolonged military operation. It started on September 8, 1941, when the last land connection to the city was severed. Although the Red Army managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city in 1943, the final lifting of the siege took place only in 1944, 872 days after it began.

The two-and-a-half year siege caused the greatest destruction and the largest loss of life ever known in a modern city. The 872 days of the siege resulted in unparalleled famine in the Leningrad region through disruption of utilities, water, energy and food supplies. This resulted in the deaths of up to 1,500,000 civilians and soldiers and the evacuation of 1,400,000 more inhabitants of the city, mainly women and children, many of whom died during evacuation due to starvation and bombardment.

Human losses in Leningrad on both sides exceeded those of the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Moscow, or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The siege of Leningrad remains the most lethal siege in world history.

 

Civilians in the city suffered from extreme starvation, especially in winter of 1941–1942. Between November 1941 and February 1942 the only food available to the citizen was 125 grams of bread, of which 50–60% consisted of sawdust and other inedible admixtures, and distributed with ration cards. In conditions of extreme temperatures (down to -30°C) and city transport being out of service, the distance of a few kilometers to work or the food distributing kiosks were insurmountable obstacles for many citizens. People often died on the streets, and citizens shortly became accustomed to the look of death. Reports of cannibalism appeared in the winter of 1941–1942, after all birds and pets were eaten by survivors.