the guardian Tue 18 September 2012
Most Leningraders had suffered enough for one lifetime (the first world war, the civil war, the winter war, two famines and two major waves of political terror) when in June 1941 the Nazis blockaded all supply routes to their city. Some 750,000 civilians died of cold and hunger. Lidiya Ginzburg's Blockade Diary is a classic account of the siege, but in Reid's epic history she is just one voice among many hundreds whose moving, first-hand accounts are used so effectively. Determined to "correct Soviet myths", Reid does not shy away from the fact that while many Leningraders resorted to eating breadcrumbs in glue and family pets, others turned to murder and cannibalism. She also maintains that the Soviet regime could have evacuated the civilian population before the Nazis arrived. This lack of concern for human life should not surprise us, however, when the NKVD, the secret police, continued to persecute suspect Leningraders as spies and "defeatists". There is a powerful sense here of the enemy without and within.