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The War Within: Diaries from the Siege of Leningrad

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Winner of the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize
Winner of the University of Southern California Book Prize
Honorable Mention, Reginald Zelnik Book Prize


“Fascinating and perceptive.”
—Antony Beevor, New York Review of Books

“Stand aside, Homer. I doubt whether even the author of the Iliad could have matched Alexis Peri’s account of the 872-day siege which Leningrad endured.”
—Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator

“Powerful and illuminating…A fascinating, insightful, and nuanced work.”
—Anna Reid, Times Literary Supplement

“Much has been written about Leningrad’s heroic resistance. But the remarkable aspect of [Peri’s] book is that she tells a very different story: recounting the internal struggles of ordinary people desperately trying to survive and make sense of their fate.”
—John Thornhill, Financial Times

“A sensitive, at times almost poetic examination of their emotions and disordered mental states. It both contrasts with and complements the equally accurate official Soviet portrait of a stalwart population standing firm in the face of evil and in defense of Soviet ideals.”
—Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs

In September 1941, two and a half months after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, the German Wehrmacht encircled Leningrad. Cut off from the rest of Russia, the city remained blockaded for 872 days, at a cost of almost a million lives. It was one of the longest and deadliest sieges in modern history.

The War Within chronicles the Leningrad blockade from the perspective of those who endured it. Drawing on unpublished diaries, Alexis Peri tells the tragic story of how young and old struggled to make sense of a world collapsing around them. When the blockade was lifted in 1944, Kremlin officials censored publications describing the ordeal and arrested many of Leningrad’s wartime leaders. Some were executed. Diaries—now dangerous to their authors—were concealed, shelved in archives, and forgotten. The War Within recovers these lost accounts, shedding light on one of World War II’s darkest episodes while paying tribute the resilience of the human spirit.

ISBN-13: 9780674248335

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Publication Date: 10-13-2020

Pages: 384

Product Dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

Alexis Peri is Associate Professor of History at Boston University, where she received the Gerald and Deanne Gitner Family Prize in Undergraduate Teaching.

Table of Contents

Maps of Leningrad xi

Directory of Diarists xiv

Abbreviations and Acronyms xix

Introduction: Year Zero 1

Part I Inside the Ring

1 The Ring Takes Shape 21

2 Becoming New People 37

3 The Elusive I 67

4 Family Life and Strife 89

Part II Exploring the Island

5 The Hierarchy of Lives 129

6 The City as Medical Laboratory 162

7 In the Mirror of History 201

Conclusion: After the Ring Broke 235

Notes 255

Selected Bibliography 313

Acknowledgments 327

Illustration Credits 329

Index 331