Today, I’m delighted to feature a post from Rachel R. Heil about the inspiration for her new book, Leningrad:The People’s War #blogtour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Rachel R. Heil to the blog.

Your book, Leningrad, sounds fascinating. Can you share with me the first idea that made you decide to write this story? It might be very different from how the story ended up being, but I am curious if you don’t mind sharing. And, if the story is very different, would you mind sharing the process by which you ended up with your current novel?

The idea for Leningrad: The People’s War came about several years ago after I read another novel that partially takes place during the Siege of Leningrad. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons is one of my favorite books, and the first half of the story takes place during the Siege of Leningrad. While I loved the book, I recall being disappointed that the story switched locations halfway through because I wanted to see what happened to Leningrad and her people following the first winter under siege.

The Siege of Leningrad lasted 872 days, but as I read a few more books set during the blockade I found that most stories ended during the winter of 1941-42, despite the siege lasting to January 1944. While this was mainly because many citizens were evacuated during that winter due to authorities using the frozen Lake Lagoda to help create a passage out of Leningrad, there were still plenty of people left in Leningrad after the winter had ended. Another reason a lot of books only covered the siege through 1942 was that after the war, the Soviet authorities stopped anyone from speaking about the siege with threats of prison sentences. Despite the limited resources and information available I wanted to write a story that followed the whole ordeal from start to finish, and that’s where the first ideas for Leningrad came about. 

IMAGE CREDIT IS FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS. PLEASE CAPITON PHOTO “The frozen Lake Lagoda. Known as The Road of Life it soon became the only way to escape encircled Leningrad.”

One thing that struck me about Leningrad and the survivors was how strong they were. Reading several interviews of survivors, I found almost all of them did not pity what they went through but saw it mainly as a challenge they had to get through to go on with their lives. The only regrets they had were that they had lost so many friends and family members and regretted not getting out of the city with those loved ones when they had the chance. To me, that was extraordinary, and I wanted to craft a story that would honor those who went through such an ordeal. 

My initial idea for the story was to focus primarily on the Russian side of the war, told from the perspective of an ordinary Russian family attempting to survive. As I began my research this outline began to change a little bit. In the beginning, I didn’t want any of my characters to become involved in the armed forces or political sphere that governed Leningrad. But as I did more digging, I decided it would significantly add to the story for a character to see how the Soviet government handled the siege. I found that it helped explain a lot of the actions Leningraders did and why the city suffered like it did, mainly due to the poor decisions Soviet leaders made. As a result, I made my main protagonist join a volunteer unit where she finds herself being pulled into the inner circle of the people in charge of defending Leningrad.

IMAGE CREDIT IS FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS. “With the end of the siege officials remove the blue signs that warned Leningraders of artillery barrages. In a rare victory for Leningrad survivors after the war the signs were put back up in 1957 to commemorate the siege and remain up in Saint Petersburg today as memorials to the victims. The signs read ‘Citizens! This part of the street is most dangerous during the artillery barrage.’”

The other big change I made was the perspective of the story. Even though one could argue that the story of Leningrad is a purely Russian story, I found the German side to be equally interesting. While there are few accounts from German soldiers who fought on the Leningrad Front, the few that did give their testimonies reveal a group of people who entered the war with the idea that they were liberating the Soviet people but quickly became disillusioned when they realized the human cost of waging such a battle and the persistence of the Soviet people not to give up their city. For many of them, the siege broke their belief in German superiority and that their leaders had made the right decision of waging war with the Soviet Union. With that knowledge I decided to split the narrative equally between the Russians and Germans. 

Looking back, I’m glad I made the decisions I made and that I went away from what I originally outlined. I’m a planner but veering away from that outline turned out to be for the best. My hope is that I crafted a story that honors both the survivors and the victims. 

IMAGE CREDIT IS FROM SERGEY STRUNNIKOV VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS. PLEASE CAPITON PHOTO “Fireworks over Leningrad following the end of the siege, 27 January 1944.” 

Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like you went on a fascinating journey yourself while writing your book. Good luck with it.

Here’s the blurb:

Leningrad, 1941. As Europe crumbles under the German war machine, the people of the Soviet Union watch. There are whispers of war but not loud enough for the civilians of Leningrad to notice. Instead, they keep their heads down and try to avoid the ever-watching eyes of their own oppressive government.

University student Tatiana Ivankova tries to look ahead to the future after a family tragedy that characterizes life under the brutal regime. But, when the rumors that have been circulating the country become a terrifying reality, Tatiana realizes that the greatest fear may not be the enemy but what her fellow citizens are prepared to do to each other to survive. 

As his men plow through the Russian countryside, Heinrich Nottebohm is told to follow orders and ask no questions, even if such commands go against his own principles. His superiors hold over him a past event that continues to destroy him with every day that passes. But, when given the opportunity to take an act of defiance, Heinrich will jump at the chance, ignoring what the end results could be. 

Leningrad: The Peoples War tells the harrowing beginning of a war that forever changed the landscape of a city, told through the eyes of both sides in a tale of courage, love, and sacrifice. 

Buy Links:

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Meet the author

Rachel R. Heil is a historical fiction writer who always dreamed of being an author. After years of dreaming, she finally decided to turn this dream into a reality with her first novel, and series, Behind the Darkened Glass. Rachel is an avid history fan, primarily focused on twentieth century history and particularly World War Two-era events. In addition to her love for history, Rachel loves following the British Royal Family and traveling the world, which only opens the door to learning more about a country’s history. Rachel resides in Wisconsin.

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Follow the Leningrad blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club