Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Madonnas of Leningrad

We amazed ourselves today by the size of our group and spent a  while trying to sort out the best arrangement for the tables.  By logic that large of a group should have been out of control, but once again, I love how everyone listens to each other and demonstrates genuine interest. Carolyn's college roommate Carol was in the area.  I say that loosely since Carolyn drove to Truckee to pick her up.  Once again she joined the discussion, prepared with ample notes and questions.  She also brought fudge from a confectioner in Truckee.  Between the tables and passing of the fudge, we had a delayed start, but we got right to it once we realized that Joanne had to leave in 45 minutes.

Most everyone said they enjoyed this book but there was plenty of criticism.  Kathy had a hard time with how fractured the stories were and felt she would have enjoyed it better if Dean had written it is "Marisa's Story."  I thought that made perfect sense and I too would have preferred a less artistic approach and more from Dean as the storyteller.  Several of you knew that she wrote the entire book, having never been to Russia which is really remarkable.  She wasn't able to go until after the book sold and the book paid for her trip.

Diana and Darlene both loved the descriptions of the art and were especially moved by her prose.  There was one thing we were in total agreement on.  When Marissa loved art so much and could describe it in such moving detail that even though it was absent, those on tour with her were moved to tears, how could she never have shared any of that with her daughter Helen who was struggling as an artist?  Marisa was always kind and thoughtful of others, even in dementia, but her children were not included in and knew nothing of their mother's past.  And Mary noted that Marisa's disposition in dementia was unusual.   Many elderly as they lose their self, they also lose their kindness.

Barbara took a lot of interest in the Alzheimer's segment of the story, because she has a friend who experienced a cerebral aneurysm two years ago while working her hospital nursing shift.  She is now in a nursing facility with limited recent memory.  Jenny said that's why Alzheimer's is call a pre-dementia condition - there is more to dementia.  It is a broad classification. So much of the book is about memory that memory became almost its own character.

We talked about the unwavering, sensitive and powerful relationship between Marisa and Dmitri.  The question most hotly contested was - who was Andre's father?   Was the naked man on the roof a hallucination?  Marisa claimed Andre was fathered by Zeus.  Carol believed that Dmitri was not the father and had quite a few notes supporting that position.  Several of us thought the whole episode on the roof was a hallucination and accepted the paternity of Dmitri.  Even Dmitri wasn't confident that he was the father.and wondered if she had been raped by a soldier.  Carolyn's question was - why would the author have introduced the naked man if that weren't important? 

A question from the publisher asked us to consider:  What do you think actually happened?  Is it a flaw or a strength of the novel that the author doesn't resolve this question?  We certainly got hung up on it for a time and I don't remember that we answered that question.  Our conversation segued into memory and our experiences with it, and with forgetfulness.  And from there it moved on to our changing bodies.  These are issues on our minds and it was good to laugh about them with friends "of a certain age."