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Chatting Up A Storm - Claudia Cragg


Dec 2, 2011

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On June 22nd 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and German troops advanced towards Leningrad, with a population of three million, Russia's second city. On June 27th the people of Leningrad began constructing fortifications around the city and steeled themselves for a defensive struggle which was to continue until January 1944. So fervent was the people's resistance that German forces, frustrated by their inability to take the stronghold, encircled the city in a 872-day-long siege beginning on 8th September 1941 during which around 500,000 troops and over a million civilians died. [Author Caroline Walton's research puts the figure higher than those of most Western historians in the '90s who used Soviet statistics that may have tended to downplay the number].
Her latest work, The Besieged (Biteback 2011) takes us inside the fortifications and into the homes and lives of those trapped in Leningrad. The history of the Siege is recounted here by survivors, or 'blokadniki' who were there (and who happen to have included, the author points out, Vladimir Putin's older brother who actually died. Putin himself was not yet born). In the summer of 1999, these 'blokadniki' disclosed their memories of that time to writer Caroline Walton.
Their stories describe humanity at its utter limit encompassing desperation, fear, grief, famine, murder and even cannibalism. But there are also stories of courage, camaraderie, fortitude, music, passion and pride, and of an elusive, not quite describable but ineffably human quality that allows hungry people to survive the worst that human experience can yield. Harrowing, yet uplifting, The Besieged is history in the broadest and best sense.
Caroline Walton is also the author of 'Ivan Petrov: Russia through a Shot Glass', 'Little Tenement on the Volga', and 'The Voice of Leningrad', which won the New London Writers Award. A fluent Russian speaker, Caroline lives in North London with her Ukrainian husband.
PUBLIC SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT - On Friday December 9th at 6 pm, Caroline Walton will be speaking on her book 'The Besieged' at the Russkii Mir bookshop, 23 Goodge St, London, W1. Tel:+(44) 20 7436 6390