Dean, Debra 1957-
Dean, Debra 1957-
Born 1957; married.
Home—Seattle, WA. Agent—Marly Rusoff & Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 524, Bronxville, NY 10708.
Has worked as a stage actress in New York, NY, for ten years; teacher in Seattle, WA.
The Madonnas of Leningrad (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.
A former New York stage actress who is now a teacher, Debra Dean has been widely praised for her debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad. The story, "a poignant tale about the power of memory," according to Allison Block in Booklist, centers on Marina and two periods of her life. In the present day, she is an aged Russian immigrant attending wedding preparations for her granddaughter in Seattle, Washington. Suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Marina increasingly withdraws into her memories of the World War II siege of Leningrad, the single most unforgettable period of her life. She is a young docent at the city's State Hermitage Museum at the time, and her knowledge of and love for the great artworks or Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian, and other Renaissance painters sustains her through the years 1941 to 1944, as she and more than two thousand other Russians huddle in the basement of the museum for protection against Germany's attacks. Many hardships, especially starvation, threaten Marina and the others, and critics have praised Dean's vivid descriptions of this horrible period of history as experienced through Marina's eyes. "One of the set pieces of the novel is a brilliant account of the first night-time bombing raids," related Janice Kulyk Keefer in the Globe and Mail, "which Marina witnesses from the vast roof of the Hermitage."
Several reviewers also praised Dean's sympathetic characterization of Alzheimer's disease, about which she diligently avoids being saccharine. As Library Journal writer Barbara Conaty put it: "Dean eloquently depicts the ravages of Alzheimer's disease and convincingly describes the inner world of the afflicted." This is not to say, however, that critics found this debut novel to be without flaws. Keefer felt that it was "fanciful in the extreme" for Dean to assert that for her whole life Marina never shares her Leningrad experience, nor her knowledge of art, with her children; and Gregory Cowles, writing in the New York Times Book Review, suggested that the "story is a little too schematic, and Dean's writing a little uneven." Nevertheless, reviewers overall consideredThe Madonnas of Leningrad to be a powerful debut in which, as one Publishers Weekly contributed stated, the author "weaves Marina's past and present together effortlessly" and "the dialogue around Marina's forgetfulness is extremely well done."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2006, Allison Block, review of The Madonnas of Leningrad, p. 52.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 11, 2006, Janice Kulyk Keefer, "The Siege of Leningrad Lite," review ofThe Madonnas of Leningrad, p. D11.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2005, review ofThe Madonnas of Leningrad, p. 1289.
Library Journal, February 15, 2006, Barbara Conaty, review ofThe Madonnas of Leningrad, p. 106.
New York Times Book Review, April 30, 2006, Gregory Cowles, "Fiction Chronicle," review of The Madonnas of Leningrad, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, November 21, 2005, review of The Madonnas of Leningrad, p. 24.
USA Today, March 30, 2006, Bob Minzesheimer, "Two WWII Novels Probe the Wounds at Home," review of The Madonnas of Leningrad, p. D5.92