National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson delivers a brilliant and riveting account of the Siege of Leningrad and the role played by Russian composer Shostakovich and his Leningrad Symphony. Read more...
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National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson delivers a brilliant and riveting account of the Siege of Leningrad and the role played by Russian composer Shostakovich and his Leningrad Symphony.
In September 1941, Adolf Hitler's Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history--almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943-1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and--eventually--one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens--the Leningrad Symphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.
This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds. It is also a look at the power--and layered meaning--of music in beleaguered lives. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a masterwork thrillingly told and impeccably researched by National Book Award-winning author M. T. Anderson.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-06-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Anderson’s ambitious nonfiction hybrid strives to meld the history of the bloody events of Russia from the 1917 Revolution through its transformation into the Soviet Union to the atrocities of WWII with a biography of prolific Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975), who was both a victim and a hero of the times he lived in. Anderson has clearly done his research, much of it original, and some of the strongest chapters—especially one on starvation and cannibalism in Leningrad during the winter of 1942—are filled with gruesome details from primary sources. But his treatment of Shostakovich’s life and character is often speculative, failing to richly evoke the composer’s passion and talent for music. In some heavily historical chapters, Shostakovich is only a minor presence. With numerous anecdotes incorporating language like “apparently,” “supposedly,” and “may have,” Anderson draws attention to the difficulty of verifying source material from this historical period in Russia, even questioning one of the major sources on Shostakovich’s life. A fascinating, if uneven, examination of an important musical figure living in a time of extraordinary political and social turmoil. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)