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It is December 1941, and eight-year-old Galina and her friend Vera are caught in the siege of Leningrad, eating soup made of wallpaper, with the occasional luxury of a dead rat. Galina’s artist father Mikhail has been kept away from the front to help save the treasures of the Hermitage. Its cellars could now provide a safe haven, provided Mikhail can navigate the perils of a portrait commission from one of Stalin’s colonels.

Nearly forty years later, Galina herself is a teacher at the Leningrad Art Academy. What ought to be a celebratory weekend at her forest dacha turns sour when she makes an unwelcome discovery. The painting she embarks upon that day will hold a grim significance for the rest of her life, as the old Soviet Union makes way for the new Russia and Galina’s familiar world changes out of all recognition.

Warm, wise and utterly enthralling, Molly Gartland’s debut novel guides us from the old communist world, with its obvious terrors and its more surprising comforts, into the glitz and bling of 21st-century St Petersburg. Galina’s story is at once a compelling page-turner and an insightful meditation on ageing and nostalgia.

E-book available worldwide.

Paperback available in the USA and UK.

*I receive a small percentage of the profits on purchases made on my page.

  • mollygartland

I have been distracted all day. I’m struggling to work on my WIP and even resorted to cleaning my bedroom and bathroom to avoid sitting down and getting words on the page. Horrific events in Ukraine have been unfolding for many days. Why am I finding it so hard to focus today?

The answer is simple. Yelena Osipova was arrested last night in Saint Petersburg. Yelena is a pensioner who bravely took to the streets with her handmade posters to express her opposition to war. Yelena is no stranger to protest. She has been making beautiful posters and protesting, often alone or in very small groups, for many years. And she is no stranger to being arrested either. You can read more about her and see her evocative work in this article in Russian Reader.

I had never heard of Yelena Osipova before yesterday. But ever since I watched the video of her being hauled off by riot police, surrounded by protesters applauding and cheering her , she has been in my thoughts. There are many parallels between Yelena and the main protagonist, Galina, in The Girl from the Hermitage. They are from the same generation and both are artists. Both are proud residents of St. Petersburg. Yelena was born in 1945, just after the siege of Leningrad. Both women grew up in the shadow of the war.

Readers often ask if there will be a sequel to The Girl from the Hermitage. This is probably due to the open ending of the book. When I was writing it, I never considered a sequel and the idea seems strange to me as I would need a long arc of 10-20 years to carry on Galina’s story. Over the past few years, the world has struggled with big, common challenges–covid and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Throughout the covid crisis, I have thought about Galina–even though she is a fictional character. How did she react to the global pandemic? Did she retreat into her flat and behave with caution? Did she survive?

And now, as tragic events unfold in Ukraine, I ask: what would Galina do? While I would love to imagine that she would rustle up a placard and join Yelena Osipova on the streets, I know this is extremely unlikely. Many Russians, especially from the older generation, believe the narrative they are being fed on the TV news: Russia is on a peacekeeping mission, the Russian army would not possibly obliterate entire towns with bombs, it is beyond possibility that the whole operation is a built on a lie, the west is always against us-this is no different etc... Others, who do not believe the lies are terrified to join protests. It is only a scant few who bravely take to the streets. Would Galina join a protest and risk being thrown in prison for eight years?

There is a fierce divide between those who believe Putin’s version of events and those who don’t. Schisms are growing between people–mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, friends. Many of us can relate to this sort of painful wedge as we have all experienced similar over BREXIT, covid vaccination, Trump, etc...

Much like my novel, this rambling post has an open ending. I just wanted to spread the word about Yelena Osipova. I don’t know what Galina or Putin will do. But I do know that the heated argument I had with a friend on the tennis court over BREXIT seems rather silly now.

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  • mollygartland

As 2021 staggers across the finish line, it is time for my yearly review of books. I have had a great year of reading and it gives me great pleasure to share my list. One thing I noticed when going through this year’s reads was that I had read far fewer BAME authors and authors in translation. My 2020 reading list was much more diverse. In 2022, I’d like to make a point to seek out a wider variety of authors.

I’d love to hear about your favourites this year! Please leave recommendations in the comments below.

Without further delay, here are my 2021 Favourites.

The Young Survivors by Debra Barnes

This book is marketed as YA but it is engaging and interesting for adults as well. If I’m honest, I was reluctant to read this one. It is a story of a Jewish family during the holocaust and initially I was not sure if I was up for it but I am very glad I did. Inspired by the author’s mother, it is a important story of love, resilience and just plain luck. Highly recommend.

A History of Loneliness, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

Yes, this author gets no less than 3 books on my top list of 2021. I had not read any of his books until this year and I think he is fabulous. The first two listed are set in Ireland and both tangle with the topic of paedophilia and growing up in the Catholic church. While A Ladder to the Sky gives a glimpse into the dog-eat-dog world of prize winning authors and the publishing industry-what could possibly go wrong? I’m so glad I came across Boyne’s work this year. He’s brilliant.

Beginning with Cannonballs by Jill McCrosky Coupe

This story spans from the 1940s into modern day, a time period very similar to my own novel, The Girl from the Hermitage. But it is set in America and traces a friendship between a white girl and an African American girl. Well written and thought provoking.

The Innocents by Michael Crummey

Set in an extremely isolated 18th century Newfoundland, this book is brilliantly written. It explores an intense bond between siblings under harsh circumstances. It is haunting, disturbing and not for the faint hearted.

Charity by Madeline Dewhurst

A duel timeline book which alternates between modern day London and Kenya in the 1950s. I love historical fiction which considers how events of the past ripple through time and continue to impact today. A brilliant debut.

The Hidden Child by Louise Fein

I listened to the audible version of this book and it is great. This is Louise’s second book and it does not disappoint. Set in the 20s, it is about a couple who are involved with the eugenics movement but then discover their own child has epilepsy. This is historical fiction at its best. The research and detail never overshadow the characters and storyline. Highly recommend, along with her debut.

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Another heavy, difficult to stomach book but the writing is truly outstanding. Inspired by the author’s mother’s experiences, the story is set in rural Ohio in the 50s/60s, and explores growing up in a dysfunctional family.

Charlotte by Helen Moffet

After several heavy books, I turned to Charlotte. Moffat develops the story of Pride and Prejudice, focusing on the story of Charlotte. I loved this book. It was refreshing and fun and there's a sexy piano tuner.

A Book of Secrets by Kate Morrison

A story of a west African woman in Tudor England and it offers a little glimpse into the world of publishing at that time. Extremely well researched yet I never felt a dump of information. Brilliant. And what a gorgeous cover. Loved it.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

This is the first Kate Quinn that I have read and I was not disappointed. Set in Bletchley Park during the war, this book tells the story of the women code breakers who worked there. Pacey storytelling, great characters and there’s cocktails and dancing with Philip (before he married HRH Princess Elizabeth).

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  • mollygartland

Well, here we are 1 year since the UK launch of of my debut novel, The Girl from the Hermitage. I haven’t posted on my blog in quite a while so I thought I would take a bit of time to look back on the rollercoaster year of being a debut novelist.

While publishing a novel has not been wildly lucrative, the experience of putting my book baby out into the world has been rewarding in many other ways. There have been pleasant surprises throughout a year which has been such a difficult time for everyone.

In no particular order, here are some of the highlights:

1. My hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan has been wonderful. Over this past year I have felt so very far away from my parents and my roots but Kalamazoo has come through to support me in many ways. I’ve received encouragement from former teachers, friends, family and the community at large. I had a brilliant digital session with the Kalamazoo Russian Cultural Association. Bookbug has kept my novel stocked on their shelf. And the Kalamazoo Institute of Art invited me to speak at their book club. All of these events have contributed to make Kalamazoo the epicentre of my US sales. I know I can count on the Zoo!

2. Comradery with other authors. Early on in 2020, my friend and fellow author Louise Fein got me involved with a brilliant debut author group. Throughout the year, we have supported, commiserated, and celebrated together. We’ve created promotional opportunities and have had a good laugh. Publishing is a crazy industry and it is great to know that we can have a good moan in the safety of our Facebook group. This talented group of authors have produced a wide variety of books and you can see our powerhouse of publications on our bookshop page.

3. Stretching out of my comfort zone. I’ve learned so many new skills since writing my debut. I made this website. I’ve become comfortable with public speaking. I’ve set up digital events on Eventbrite. I didn’t even know how to use Twitter and Instagram before all of this kicked off! It has been brilliant to stretch and grow in a year that made our worlds smaller and smaller.

4. Hearing from readers has been a delight. I love getting messages from readers who have enjoyed my book. And they always seem to land in my mailbox right when I need it the most. My Girl may have resonated or reached a reader in a very personal way or perhaps they simply enjoyed reading it. Here’s a flavour of some of the messages I’ve received:

· My dad was born in Russia (he came to the US in 1910) and I wish he were here to read The Girl from the Hermitage..

· As an 84 year old watercolourist with everything I need to begin oil painting except the courage to put a canvas on the easel, I was inspired by all the descriptions of Galina and her father preparing to paint.

· I have never been to Russia or St Petersburg but I felt as if I was there at every moment. And I so loved most of the characters, Mikhail, Galina, Boris - all painted with such a fine brush.

· I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I was transported back to our days in the Russia of the 1990’s, to the stories of artists we met just trying to survive in the new Russia and to the progeny of prisoners of the gulags.

· The Girl from the Hermitage is a great story. It has incredibly interesting characters, is well-written, and was very hard to put down each night because it kept me wanting to read more! This was a perfect book for me.

· I lived in the former Soviet Union the same years you lived in Moscow. I so enjoyed your description of the foods, seeing the words I remember and the experience of life there.

· It is wonderful. I loved the real characters, the captivating story, the Russian setting and history and the painting. You must be an artist as well as an author as I felt as though I was doing the painting as you described the character painting.

· Incredibly touching, subtle and beautiful book. I’m so glad I discovered this wonderful American author with an understanding of the Russian soul and culture.

It has been a great year, despite all the noise and anxiety of our poxy world. And I am thrilled that The Girl from the Hermitage has made its way into so many hands. To everyone who has bought my book, enthusiastically recommended it to people, taken it out from the library, given it as a gift, written a review or posted about it on social media, I thank you! Debut authors need as much help as we can muster and I’ve had so many people go out of their way to give my book a little boost. THANK YOU. And happy birthday to my Hermitage Girl.

Have I mentioned The Girl from the Hermitage makes an excellent Christmas gift???

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Originally from Michigan, Molly Gartland worked in Moscow from 1994 to 2000 and has been fascinated by Russian culture ever since.

She has an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University, Twickenham and lives in London.

The manuscript for her debut novel The Girl from the Hermitage was shortlisted for the Impress Prize and longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, the Bath Novel Award and Grindstone Novel Award.

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