We’re delighted to be sharing Elena’s thoughts about The Girl From The Hermitage from Molly Gartland on Rachel’s Random Resources tour.
The Girl From The Hermitage by Molly Gartland is published by Lightning Books and is available to purchase in digital and paperback formats.
Galina was born into a world of horrors. So why does she mourn its passing?
It is December 1941, and eight-year-old Galina and her friend Vera are caught in the siege of Leningrad, eating wallpaper soup and dead rats. Galina’s artist father Mikhail has been kept away from the front to help save the treasures of the Hermitage. Its cellars could provide a safe haven, as long as Mikhail can survive the perils of a commission from one of Stalin’s colonels.
Three decades on, Galina is a teacher at the Leningrad Art Institute. What ought to be a celebratory weekend at her forest dacha turns sour when she makes an unwelcome discovery. The painting she starts that day will hold a grim significance for the rest of her life, as the old Soviet Union makes way for the new Russia and her world changes out of all recognition.
Warm, wise and utterly enthralling, Molly Gartland’s debut novel guides us from the old communist era, with its obvious terrors and its more surprising comforts, into the bling of 21st-century St Petersburg. Galina’s story is an insightful meditation on ageing and nostalgia as well as a compelling page-turner.
At the beginning of the story we see that Mikhail is getting bits of wallpaper off the wall and making into soup to stop his daughter Galina from succumbing to starvation. He goes out in search of water and sees a pile of frozen bodies covered in snow. Such a harrowing introduction to Galina’s childhood told from 1941 through to adulthood and onto old age. She is an artist like her father was and we go on a journey with her and her paintings learning about her family and that particular period in Russian history and from her starvation during the siege of Leningrad through to modern day Russia.
Before reading this book I didn’t have too much knowledge of this period aside from what I learnt years ago in GCSE History but the author brilliantly tells the story of this woman’s hardship and eventual survival and strength of character with the backdrop of all of Russia’s rich and tumultuous history.
I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the paintings – so rich and captivating. In fact I loved every one of the author’s descriptions, sometimes it was as though I was actually there with Galina experiencing it all first-hand. I love that The Hermitage saves her.
A wonderful book that I thoroughly recommend about one woman’s life in the ways in which she is forced to adapt to the ‘Motherland’.
Originally from Michigan, Molly Gartland worked in Moscow from 1994 to 2000 and has been fascinated by Russian culture ever since.
She has an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University, Twickenham and lives in London.
The manuscript for her debut novel The Girl from the Hermitage was shortlisted for the Impress Prize and longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, the Bath Novel Award and Grindstone Novel Award.