my take: it would seem that this book has the perfect mix to be super depressing: Russia, World War II, Alzheimer's. amazingly, it wasn't too depressing ... just depressing enough. and i read this during a snow storm.
i'm an art history nerd. since college i've wanted to visit the hermitage. this book is a pretty good substitute for travel to st. petersburg. it was interesting to read that the author didn't visit the hermitage until after her book was published. she started her book before google was THE search tool and she was actually reading descriptions in books at the library. later, she discovered the hermitage website with virtual tours.
the novel is a tour of sorts ... the author takes us through the slipping memory of marina, once a docent at the hermitage. she remembers all the paintings that have been removed for safety during WWII ... many of them madonnas. i thought the structure of the novel gave the feel of living inside the head of an Alzheimer patient. i love how marina encounters "madonna-ness" herself. but enough said. read it yourself!
my source: it's been on our shelf for a few years - hubby picked it up on one of our schuler's book store camp outs ... we "park" ourselves there for a few hours reading first chapters and drooling over the book club selections display. also, debra dean will be speaking at the Festival of Faith & Writing in april. whoot whoot.
my verdict: very good. definitely worth a read.