The Siege by Helen Dunmore - Chapter 17

Categories: Helen Keller
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The chapter begins with Anna sharing how she feels about winter and the snow. Anna has always loved the first snowfall of winter. She knows as soon as dawn comes that it’ll be today. The sky remains dark, with a yellow tinge to the clouds. The light has a sharp, raw edge. Everything is waiting, silent and expectant. Snow will come. She thinks the snow will wipe away all mistakes. Light will stream upwards from the immaculate white of the ground.

When the first snow falls, Anna always goes to the Summer Garden. There, the noise of the city is muffled, and the park is eerily luminous. Small, naked­looking sparrows hop from twig to twig, dislodging a powder of snow. The trees are lit up like candelabra by the whiteness they hold in their arms. Underfoot, she hears for the first time the squeak of snow packing into the treads of her boots. She bends down, scoops up a handful of the new snow, throws it up into the air and watches it scatter into powdery fragments as it falls for the second time.

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And although she’s cold and she ought to get home, she always stays much longer than she means to, because she knows that this feeling won’t come again for another year.

The snow will continue to fall, thaw, freeze, turn grey with use, be covered again and again by fresh blizzards. But nothing again will have the freshness, exhilaration and loneliness of the first snowfall.

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She’s the one thing still warm and alive in a world which is going to sleep. She looks up, into the snow which spirals down the steep funnels of the sky, whirls into her face, lands on her eyelashes and melts into tears. And then she goes back to the apartment, along streets where trams are already thrashing the new, soft snow into slush. Children skid around street­corners, yelling, their faces blazing crimson. Soon it’ll be time for skis and sledges. And tomorrow, when she wakes, the snow will be thick and crusted with ice. The sun will be out, and all the shadows will be blue.

This is how she has welcomed the snow every year of her life. But this year she will not welcome it in that way. The first snow falls on the fourteenth of October, drifting down through the sky and settling on the ruins of shelled houses, on to tank­traps, machine­gun nests and heaps of rubble. The snow is silent, but ominous. No one knows, this year, whether it will be an enemy or a friend. The Russian winter defeated Napoleon, people say to one another. Perhaps it will defeat Hitler, too. A ring of siege grips the city. Nothing comes in, nothing goes out. And in the suburbs, within sight, the Germans have dug themselves in. There they stay, hunkered down for winter in deep trenches, behind defended firing­positions. The Germans have always been good at digging trenches, say older Leningraders who fought in the last war.

Luxury trenches, they have, with carpets and chairs and pictures hanging on the walls. There they squat in the outskirts of Leningrad, like wolves at the mouth of a cave. They pour shells on to the city, but they do not advance any farther. This is blockade. swinging their arms. They write letters to their families, saying that they’ll be home soon, when they have won the war. Behind them, unbroken supply lines stretch all the way back to Berlin. The Germans are altering their rolling­stock to fit Russian railway lines. They have got the harvests of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on hand, and they can wait as long as they have to. An iron ring squeezes around the besieged city, slowly throttling it.

Marina and Anna talk about Marina’s roles, and how she played so many roles, one including Cordelia in For My Cordelia. ‘Oh Anna, I played so many roles. I kept it for the stone, not for the inscription. Besides, I never identified with the character. I am much too aggressive. I would have taken Lear by the shoulders and shaken some sense into him. That kind of vanity amounts to madness, don’t you think? All of us are to grovel on the floor declaring our love for our great leader. But of course, you have to find a way into every part.’

Q: How much money do they have left?
A: Five Hundred.
Q: What is one role that Marina potrayed?
A: Cordelia in For My Cordelia

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The Siege by Helen Dunmore - Chapter 17. (2016, Dec 10). Retrieved from

The Siege by Helen Dunmore - Chapter 17
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