Review: Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad – M.T. Anderson

My first non-fiction book of 2018!

While I was going through my non-fiction TBR shelf at the beginning of the year I passed several American, British, and French accounts and settled on the Russian Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson.

Giving a crescendo account of the Siege of Leningrad, Symphony of the City of the Dead was long listed for the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. But did it fall flat for this reader? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

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24727079Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

Publisher: Candlewick (September 22, 2015)

Print Length: 456 pages

Audiobook Length: 10 hrs and 20 mins

Narrator: M.T. Anderson

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.

The Review

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised while Reading Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson.

Contrary to its more fictional cover design, Anderson masterfully weaves a non-fiction account of Russian composer and pianist Dmitri Shostakovich starting from his early training all the way through to his composition of his Seventh Symphony during the siege of Leningrad during World War II.

I chose to listen to this book on Audible, rather than read it physically, and boy am I glad I did. Besides being read by Anderson himself, the audiobook includes snip-its from Shostakovich’s career as they were composed during the time being touched on. It was by far more interesting to hear the music that Anderson speaks so highly off that I think if you read this book physically you’re doing yourself a disservice.

While I’ve dabbled here and there with fictional accounts of the Siege of Leningrad I found it profoundly moving to hear first hand accounts of the almost two and a half year military blockade. While Shostakovich experienced the Siege differently than say the average Soviet at the time, given that he was in the upper class, Symphony for the City of the Dead captures what it was like to live, love, lose, and die during this turbulent time in Russian history.

Besides focusing on Shostakovich and the works that he was churning out during the siege, Anderson touches on other topics such as, but not restricted to, Communism, Joseph Stalin, foreign policy, and the Grand Alliance, that add a deeper depth to the overall story that is being told.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo

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So there is my review for Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. Have you read any non-fiction accounts of this time in Russian history? Leave it as a comment below and help my TBR grow.


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