Silver Winner, ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year, History
From September 1941 until January 1944, Leningrad suffered under one of the worst sieges in the history of warfare. At least one million civilians died, many during the terribly cold first winter. Bearing the brunt of this hardship—and keeping the city alive through their daily toil and sacrifice—were the women of Leningrad. Yet their perspective on life during the siege has been little examined.
Cynthia Simmons and Nina Perlina have searched archival holdings for letters and diaries written during the siege, conducted interviews with survivors, and collected poetry, fiction, and retrospective memoirs written by the blokadnitsy (women survivors) to present a truer picture of the city under siege. In simple, direct, even heartbreaking language, these documents tell of lost husbands, mothers, children; meager rations often supplemented with sawdust and other inedible additives; crime, cruelty, and even cannibalism. They also relate unexpected acts of kindness and generosity; attempts to maintain cultural life through musical and dramatic performances; and provide insight into a group of ordinary women reaching beyond differences in socioeconomic class, ethnicity, and profession in order to survive in extraordinary times.
Writing the Siege of Leningrad is a remarkably touching and often poetic account of everyday life in Leningrad during the German siege and the horrors of war and extreme privations to which the public at large, in particular women, were subjected on a daily basis during World War II. The book's carefully crafted foreword by Richard Bidlack provides essential context for this unique account by skillfully surveying the history of Soviet writings on the siege. Within this context, the authors exploit an imposing array of personal reminiscences, diaries, and letters written by women who made up the bulk of the besieged city's population and played an instrumental role in its defense and survival to shape a unique and often intimate mosaic of life during the siege and the terror and unrelenting hardships faced by these women. As such, Writing the Siege of Leningrad stands at the forefront of a new genre of historical literature that strips away the veneer of censorship and propaganda that so dominated historical works of the Soviet era to present a starker and more accurate portrait of Soviet life during World War II. This inspiring, often depressing, but intensely human portrait of suffering, deprivation, and survival stands as a monument to the resilience of the human spirit.
The role of women in war, their participation in the military, in agriculture and industry, and in the family, have been too often ignored. The 900-day siege of Leningrad called upon women to participate fully in the superhuman effort to resist a particularly vicious foe. Nina Perlina and Cynthia Simmons are to be commended for making more visible the significance of this event and the complex and often heroic stories of women survivors of the siege. This is a very significant work and a very important contribution to the literature on the history of World War II, women's history, and the history of Russia and the former Soviet Union.
While hundreds of books on the subject spout official Soviet dogma, this volume has emerged since the fall of communism, and it offers the voice of the people. The authors successfully capture women's battle for survival and heroic struggle to maintain a semblance of municipal life during the siege. ... A very touching account of these women's remarkable accomplishments ...
... profoundly important, deeply moving, insightful collection of human experience and a strongly recommended addition to Russian History, European Studies, and Women's Studies supplemental reading lists and academic reference collections.
As cited in a review of Jolluck: "This book (Jolluck) regulates these women's subsequent loss of family, culture, religion, and dignity, a story of deprivation and wanton behavior by the Germans that Cynthia Simmons told in [Siege] with a much better focus."
Richard Bidlack's foreword, Perlina's commentaries, Simmons's introductory material, and the maps, charts, and chronology enhance the accounts and make this book indispensable for all who take an interest in Russia, its literature, the history of the 20th century, and women's studies.
. . . a valuable and thoroughly documented collection. . . . Reading these accounts today calls for a kaleidoscope of emotions: anger, sorrow, horrow and even grim amusement. Some of these women are still with us today, and we should pay homage to them while we can.
Works such as this open the door into the study of humans rather than the study of events — and surely, that is one of the most fascinating reasons to study history.
An indispensable resource for teaching history or culture courses, as well as an important read for anybody interested in Leningrad, war, or Women's Studies.