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Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad (2015)

af M. T. Anderson

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6545035,748 (4.33)73
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.… (mere)
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I got this free from my YA free book audio-book provider, and, not really looking at the picture or the subtitle; ridiculously, I put off listening to it because "City of the Dead" made me think it was going to be some silly Zombie thing. Noooo. This is a very interesting and moving historical account about the Russian Composer, Dmitri Shostakovich. The author is a talented writer as well as a fine narrator. ( )
  TraSea | Apr 29, 2024 |
To be honest, there's very little chance I would normally pick up a biography of Dmitri Shostakovich, even though such a topic does sound interesting in a hypothetical sense; I simply just don't read a ton of nonfiction. But tell me about a biography of Dmitri Shostakovich written by the best YA author currently working, M. T. Anderson, and of course I'm all over it.

This takes in Shostakovich's whole life, but mostly focuses on the siege of Leningrad, when the Nazi army cut the city off from any supply lines; it chronicles Shostakovich's life up until that point but also provides a lot of historical information about the history of the Soviet Union for context. Even though it's for a YA audience, I found it totally successful for an adult audience, and even ended up recommending it to my father, a WWII buff but definitely not a YA reader, who enjoyed it so much that a couple months later he was citing facts he learned from it back to me, having forgotten I was the one who recommended it to him to begin with. Anderson even does some original research here; poking around on Google Scholar, it seems that academics are citing his work in peer-reviewed journals already.

The book is pretty horrifying. WWII-era Soviet Russia was a pretty awful place to live even before the Nazis showed up. Anderson does a great job exploring the intersection of politics and art, how art is shaped by politics and works to defy it. Anderson writes about music beautifully (no easy feat!) and really gets us into the head of Shostakovich in particular and the world of Russia in general; I learned a lot about Stalin from this, actually. Overall, excellent work, and a good example of why M. T. Anderson is one of my favorite authors full stop, not just one of my favorite YA authors.
  Stevil2001 | Feb 28, 2024 |
Terrific story, vividly brought to life in Anderson's clear, effective style. Rich with history, conversation, poetry, and music, always music. A page-turner. ( )
  fmclellan | Jan 23, 2024 |
Wow, this book is fantastic, absolutely stunning. ( )
  RRabas | Jun 16, 2023 |
Well-constructed non-fiction that weaves together a biography of Dmitri Shostakovich with the key events in the history of the Soviet Union during his lifetime. It portrays how events influenced his music, and how his music, in turn, influenced and inspired the people. It tells of the rise of Lenin, Stalin’s Great Terror, the German invasion of Russia during WWII, the Siege of Leningrad, and the Cold War.

The author discusses Shostakovich’s many compositions, focusing on details of his writing his Seventh Symphony, which became known as the Leningrad Symphony. He gives readers a glimpse into the mindset of the Russian people as they endured one hardship after the next. He does not spare the gruesome details of starvation, deaths, and horrific circumstances experienced during the three-year Siege.

I appreciated the photos, which are inserted into the narrative at appropriate points to provide a visual of what has been described. One of the highlights of the book is a gripping set piece of the performance of the Leningrad Symphony during the Siege – simply amazing! It portrays the power of music to lift spirits, inspire hope, and unite people in a common cause.

This book offers a captivating account of a brilliant composer and the brutal times in which he lived. The author must occasionally infer motives and construct a possible series of events due to the lack of verifiable information. If you read the voluminous footnotes, you will get a good idea of why the author chose to interpret specific actions the way he did. I read the book, then listened to the symphony.

4.5
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
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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.

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