Monday, November 21, 2016

Symphony for the City of the Dead

Anderson, M.T. (2015). Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. Brilliance Audio.

Young Adult and older / Audio Book / Non-Fiction

I give this audio book 5 of 5 stars

Blurb (SYNC): In September of 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—two and a half years of bombardment and starvation. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, the relatives of the dead having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Desperate citizens burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—even 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. This testament of courage was copied onto microfilm, driven across the Middle East, and flown over the deserts of North Africa to be performed in the United States—where it played a surprising role in strengthening the Grand Alliance against the Axis powers.

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.

HALL WAYS REVIEW: This was yet another audio book that I went into without knowing a thing about it -- I hadn't even read the full title, so I didn't know it was non-fiction or about Shostakovich. In hindsight, I think this was a good thing because I might not have listened to it because the subject matter wasn't one that would grab my interest.  Too many books, too little time, you know.

I am so glad I listened to this book. Not only did I learn more about composer Dmitri Shostakovich, I got a serious schooling in world history and particularly, the madness of Joseph Stalin, and the suffering, slaughter, and perseverance of the Russian people. The narration (by author M.T. Anderson) was outstanding, and a perk of reading with my ears was getting to listen to snippets of various pieces by Shostakovich placed in context of when and why they were composed.

What I found fascinating is how the Russian government, over Shostakovich's whole lifetime, used Shostakovich and his music for intentional purposes. He was first raised up to inspire and improve morale, but when he got too popular, he was then berated and put in his place to show that the government was all powerful.  Then he was protected because his music was excellent propaganda, which showed the outside world that Russia was cultured and refined (and kept hidden the atrocities happening there).

Though the hook was to find out about Shostakovich's 7th Symphony (referenced in the title) and its secret message, what comes through is that regarding music, what message is transmitted via the music is completely dependent upon the circumstances of the listener at that time. Where some hear a victory march, others hear a death march; the bells of hope may also be ringing doom.

Thank you to SYNC summer audiobook program for providing this free download with absolutely no strings attached. Listening and reviewing were entirely my own decision -- and it was a good one.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: M. T. Anderson is the author of Feed, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, as well as The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume I: The Pox Party, winner of the National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller, and its sequel, The Kingdom on the Waves, which was also a New York Times bestseller. Both volumes were also named Michael L. Printz Honor Books. M. T. Anderson lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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