When German troops surround Leningrad and cut off food supplies in the autumn of 1941, no one imagines that the siege will last almost three years and take hundreds of thousands of lives. As the first 'hungry winter' sets in, the city's residents strip the bark off trees, boil and eat moss-covered stones, and trade priceless antiques for half a loaf of bread - and sex for a chunk of sugar.
But the scientists at the Institute of Plant Industry pledge to protect their collection of rare seeds, painstakingly gathered from all over the world, no matter what the human cost. But as the siege continues, the group divides into those who would preserve their principles at the price of starvation, and others who turn to deception - and more sinister measures - to survive.
A powerful, stunningly precise and beautifully written novel about human nature under life's harshest pressures. Reminiscent of Rachel Seiffert's The Dark Room and Bernhard Schlink's The Reader in its brevity, spareness and power, it is a quite remarkable debut.
Elise Blackwell holds an MFA from the University of California, Irvine, and has worked as a journalist, writer and translator. Originally from southern Louisiana, she teaches fiction writing at Boise State University.
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