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Review Excerpts

The National Catholic Weekly – May 29, 2006
“Gripping… masterful… poignant and emotionally engaging… With sensitivity and a strong sense of place, first-time novelist Debra Dean vividly recreates one of the overlooked stories of World War II.”
-- Robert Walch

Daily Mississippian (Oxford) – May 1, 2006
“The Madonnas of Leningrad, a debut novel by Debra Dean, is, simply put, beautiful. There's really no other word simple enough, yet suitably evocative, to describe this novel. There is a natural movement back and forth in time between war-torn Leningrad and present-day Washington. No easy answers are given as to what will happen to the characters, even our protagonist… The novel is a complete success.”
-- Kenneth Jones

Seattle Magazine – April 2006
“It's rare and exciting to read an undiscovered author's first novel and find it flawless. Enter Seattleite Debra Dean's Madonnas, a fascinating story about a Russian woman named Marina who survives the Nazis' siege of Leningrad and later battles Alzheimer's disease… While Madonnas' subject matter is intensely upsetting, Dean, a truly gifted writer, makes the difficult topics of disease and hunger poetic and uplifting. Dean's novel is achingly beautiful and will, we hope, earn her a long turn in the spotlight.”
-- Jenna Land Free

Richmond Times Dispatch – April 30, 2006
“Dean divides her novel into two distinct periods, and she exercises considerable skill sliding from one to another and back again... The story's painfully acute poignancy lies in the scenes documenting Marina 's frightening descent into dementia, but it's the Soviet-era scenes that generate most of the novel's momentum. Dean builds… a novel of compelling emotional strength. It possesses the intimacy of a mournful sonata, rather than the heft of a full-throated symphony, and for readers who know something about losing a loved one to Alzheimer's, it's particularly moving.”
-- Doug Childers

Lincoln Journal Star – April 23, 2006
“This remarkable and beautiful short novel is the story of memory and forgetting, of imagination and harsh reality… The novel, the author's first, is a testament to the power of art to uplift and strengthen the human spirit, and a testament to the power of memory that enriches us when it is present and limits us when it is gone. There is a kind of sadness in the novel, but it is a sadness that does not diminish us, but, rather, makes us proud that there are such people as Marina, and such paintings as the Madonnas of Leningrad.”
-- Charles Stephen

The Ledger Independent – April 20, 2006
“The most powerful theme of The Madonnas of Leningrad is hope, and especially hope in the form of children... There is no way to describe the poetic prose of The Madonnas of Leningrad. It is beautifully written and teaches us about great art. It is fascinating as history. But most of all, like all great literature and art, it teaches us about the unconquerable spirit of human beings. The Madonnas of Leningrad is a book to read again and again.”
-- Martha D. Bone

The State (SC) – April 2, 2006
“Dean takes us to the strength and ultimate goodness of the human heart… Dean has chosen to give this novel the qualities of a painting, a portrait of a woman’s mind. The plot doesn’t push us furiously toward the ending… Some questions are never resolved, and others… are answered in the middle of the novel, like a painting that reveals events all at once. But for readers, Marina’s mind by then has become so real, so poignant, so much a reflection of our own minds, that we’d be glad to keep reading even past the ending that surprises us, after all.”
-- Nancy Kreml

Seattle Magazine - April 1, 2006
"It's rare and exciting to read an undiscovered author's first novel and find it flawless. Enter Seattleite Debra Dean's Madonnas, a fascinating story... ...While Madonnas' subject matter is intensely upsetting, Dean, a truly gifted writer, makes the difficult topics of disease and hunger poetic and uplifting... Dean's novel is achingly beautiful and will, we hope, earn her a long turn in the spotlight."
-- Jenna Land Free

Bookpage – April 1, 2006
“Dean merges past and present in prose that shines like the gilt frames in the Hermitage… The heart of the story is its flashbacks… As she commits scenes, colors, even brushstrokes to memory, the paintings come alive... Drawn in part from Dean’s observations of her grandmother’s life with Alzheimer’s, The Madonnas of Leningrad is an artful story, lovingly told, that illustrates how humans deal with trauma—the physical privations and fears of war, and the slow deterioration of the mind itself. Like the empty frames on the museum walls, this novel of memory and forgetting glows with love and hope.”
-- Leslie Budewitz

USA Today – March 30, 2006
“A two-pronged story about memories and imagination… In her debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, Debra Dean offers a sensitive portrayal of the non-combatants who suffer on the home front… It's the reader's good fortune that Dean chooses to tell much of her story in the confines of an art museum. Her descriptive passages and dialogue are painteresque and exquisitely drawn. They bring to life wonderful paintings as well as the tortured lives of Leningrad's residents.”
-- Carol Memmott

Portland Tribune – March 28, 2006
“Engrossing… The treasures of Russia’s Hermitage Museum are lovingly re-created in The Madonnas of Leningrad… Dean does a fine job of chronicling how people react in times of displacement. Characters from the Leningrad section are intriguing and well-drawn… In the numbing cold and widespread starvation, Dean takes her audience by the hand and reveals the splendors of the Hermitage. The passages describing the various paintings are beautiful and enchanting. They read as though the author were standing inches away from them, awed by every brushstroke, every tiny bit of color and shadow.”
-- Ellison G. Weist

Oakland Tribune – March 26, 2006
“Exquisitely crafted and deeply satisfying, The Madonnas of Leningrad succeeds at the near-impossible double task of tearing at the heart and stirring the mind. Debra Dean’s first novel is a mature work which devoted readers will savor. Not a word is wasted and the images linger long after the story is told… The ending to this multi-textured novel must be read rather than revealed in a critique. It is a tribute to the glory of art and the power of imagination. The finale returns to mind often, leaving the reader wanting more from this fledgling author.”
-- Diane Weddington

Seattle Times – March 17, 2006
“Memory and the imagination are the gifts that keep on giving in The Madonnas of Leningrad, an exceptional debut novel by Seattle writer Debra Dean… Volleying between Russia then and the Pacific Northwest now, Dean manages to meld the two story lines and, more important, convey the value of art and a poetic sensibility.”
-- Ellen Emry Heltzel

San Francisco Chronicle – March 12, 2006
“Like other novels that portray the inner workings of disorders into which we have little insight… The Madonnas of Leningrad gives a glimpse into the woozy Alzheimer’s mind… The most vivid depictions here are of the paintings themselves and Marina’s past... The reader almost gets lost with Marina in her memory palace made of paintings she cannot see.”
-- Amy Klein

Library Journal (Starred Review) – February 15, 2006
“Like her adoring museum audiences 60 years earlier, readers will absorb Marina's glorious, lush accounts of classical beauties as she traces them in her mind. Dean eloquently depicts the ravages of Alzheimer's disease and convincingly describes the inner world of the afflicted. Spare, elegant language, taut emotion, and the crystal-clear ring of truth secure for this debut work a spot on library shelves everywhere.” – February1, 2006
“The hauntingly beautiful but tragic tale of The Madonnas of Leningrad deserves to be read twice. Once for the story line, then again for its beautiful use of words… The descriptions of the paintings are beautifully rendered. If one closes one's eyes after reading of a particular painting, it's possible to bring the canvas alive against one's eyelids. I found it hard to believe that The Madonnas of Leningrad is Debra Dean's first novel. She segues from one time period to the other masterfully… I enjoyed this book very much, and look forward to more from its author.”
-- Mary Ann Smyth

Booklist (Starred Review) – January 03, 2006
“Gracefully shifting between the Soviet Union and the contemporary Pacific Northwest, first-time novelist Dean renders a poignant tale about the power of memory. Dean eloquently describes the works of Rembrandt, Rubens, and Raphael, but she is at her best illuminating aging Marina’s precarious state of mind.”
-- Allison Block

Historical Novel Society (UK) – January, 2006
“Superb first novel… This is a beautifully written novel, a haunting tribute to the power of memory to help us survive in the worst of times. The story of the siege and the horrors that the people of Leningrad had to endure—with many starving to death, while the survivors waited in endless lines for bread—is especially powerful. And Dean’s descriptions of the paintings make you want to visit the Hermitage.”
-- Vicki Kondelik

Publishers Weekly – November 21, 2005
“Beautiful… vibrant… Dean, making her debut, weaves Marina's past and present together effortlessly. The dialogue around Marina's forgetfulness is extremely well done, and the Hermitage material has depth... Memory, the hopes one pins on it and the letting go one must do around it all take on real poignancy, giving the story a satisfying fullness.”

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