Thursday, October 8, 2015

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

From the publisher: 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.

I had this book sitting on my dining room table for months while I tried to convince myself to read it. First of all, it is WWII nonfiction. Not My Thing. And second, it generated a huge amount of hype among advance reviewers. I am always wary of the overhyped, especially within YA literature where every book is the "next big thing." But finally I gave in, and I am so glad I did. Symphony for the City of the Dead more than lives up to the hype.

M.T. Anderson has achieved what I found to be a perfect blend of history, narrative, and springboard for questioning. The prose is suitable for older teens - accessible but not "dumbed down" in the slightest. Photos and maps are integrated throughout (helpful for readers who, like me, are geographically impaired). And so many layers! The role of music and art during wartime, the lengths to which people will go to survive atrocities... I will never forget the depiction of the Leningrad orchestra, starving and weak and almost dead, straggling in to play the seventh symphony to an audience of people who sacrificed their bread rations to buy a ticket.

Symphony for the City of the Dead is available for loan at Galesburg Public Library.

No comments:

Post a Comment