‘The Lions of Leningrad’ Tells the Epic Story of the Deadly Siege in a Graphic Novel

Comic Books Entertainment Reviews

On Sunday, June 22, 1941, German tanks and infantry moved across the Russian border as Operation Barbarossa began. The on-aggression treaty Hitler had made with Stalin in 1939 was broken and the German Blitzkrieg was unleashed on the Soviet Union.  The attack was divided into three parts. Army Group South moved through Ukraine towards Crimea while Army Group Center advanced towards Moscow. Army Group North’s objective was Leningrad, the major city on the Baltic formerly known as St. Petersburg. By September 8, 1941, the German forces had cut off the last road into the city, effectively cutting it off. The siege would not be lifted for 872 days. Though a narrow land corridor was eventually opened, it could not bring in enough supplies to support the population or evacuate all the civilians. It is estimated nearly 1.5 million Russian soldiers and civilians died during the siege and 1.4 million civilians were evacuated, though many of the evacuees died due to starvation or bombardment. 

playing before the war
Playing before the siege. Image by Michael Knight.

What Is The Lions of Leningrad?

The graphic novel The Lions of Leningrad tells the story of the siege of Leningrad from the perspective of teenage children trapped inside the city. The story was written by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem, with art by Thomas Du Caju.  The book is published by Dead Reckoning, an imprint of the Naval Institute Press. It is available in a paperback edition, which can be purchased at your local bookstore, as well as several online sellers including Amazon. A Kindle digital version is also available. The suggested retail price for both editions is $19.95. 

The Lions of Leningrad portrays the horrors of the siege of Leningrad as four teenagers suffer hunger, cold, and attacks by the Germany military. However, the Germans are not the only enemy. Fellow civilians and soldiers fight them for survival while Soviet security forces arrest and kill people for disloyalty towards the government and defeatism. Despite the challenges, these youth try to help protect their city and their families while surviving themselves. 

racing away from the Germans
Racing away from the Germans. Image by Michael Knight.

Why Should You Read The Lions of Leningrad ?

Van Rijckeghem does a great job as a storyteller. By choosing teenagers as the protagonists rather than adults, he is able to show the affect of the extremes of war on the innocents. Yet these innocents are old enough to take on an active role in the story rather than only be acted upon. Joseph Stalin, the totalitarian leader of the Soviet Union during World War II, is quoted as saying, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” The siege of Leningrad tends to exist in history as a statistic. However, the author of this graphic novel helps illustrate the tragedy by making each death personal to the reader. Not only is death a part of the tragedy, but also the loss of youth and innocence. These young people should be in school and playing sports rather than fighting to survive. The artwork is also incredible. Du Caju uses color and light to help portray the mood of the story. Before the siege begins, there are lots of bright colors. However, as winter and the siege sets in, the art turns darker, with grays and blues. The detailed drawings, especially the emotions on the faces of the characters, really help bring them to life.

As a history major and a high school history teacher, I feel it is important that we do not let great tragedies become statistics. Instead, we need to focus on individuals who lived and died during those horrible events so we can not only gain a greater understanding of what they endured, but also to train our minds to view current events with greater detail rather than remaining content with the ‘big picture.’ The Lions of Leningrad is a great graphic novel. I have always been impressed with the graphic novels published by Dead Reckoning and this is one of my favorite so far. I highly recommend The Lions of Leningrad.

winter in Leningrad
A supply run over a frozen lake. Image by Michael Knight.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this book for review purposes.

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