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Debra Dean’s novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, is an exploration of memory and demonstrates how that most mysterious of faculties can both save and fail us. Utilising parallel narratives, Dean tells the story of Marina, a guide at Leningrad’s Hermitage Museum in 1941. As the German army advances, Marina and her colleagues labour to remove and conceal precious works of art. Later, the employees of the Hermitage and their families live in the museum basement, and try to survive the harsh winter with limited provisions.

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As Meena Blesing explained in an interview on Sixty Minutes, writing an autobiographical account of her life during the Combe-Ivanov Royal Commission was something she needed to do. Writing the book allowed her to discuss the events of 1983 and their consequences in a way that gave expression to and ordered her anger. For the reader, Blesing’s very personal story provides a perspective on the Combe Affair which has not been canvassed in the other published material: media reports, the Hope Report, David Marr’s The Ivanov Trail. That the book concludes on a note of somewhat ironic hope is but one indication of the emotional complexity of the material story, she covers. For, in telling her own story, Blesing also presents us with what can be read as a rare discussion of the impact on private, family life of state actions and policies.

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