Review Blog

Dec 04 2015

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson

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Candlewick Press, 2015. ISBN 9780763668181
(Ages 14+) Highly Recommended. Biography. It is the 1920s, and Dmitri Shostakovich is a young and gifted musician. His appearance, however, is not inspiring: he's thin, weak; with glasses and a nerdiness which sets him apart. He is polite to a fault, won't stand up for himself, and meekly accepts every criticism. But Shostakovich can do something no one else can: he can compose music that is bold and innovative; that speaks to people. He is part of a colourful rebellion in art that has swept through Bolshevik Russia. But Shostakovich's music is under threat from a force of evil that controls every aspect of Russian life - the rule of 'Comrade' Stalin. Yet Stalin is not Shostakovich's only threat, because Hitler has his eyes set on Shostakovich's home city of Leningrad.
The city is crippled when the Nazis cut off supply lines and the harsh Russian winter sets in. People are trapped in Leningrad, Shostakovich included, - but Shostakovich comes up with an unusual way to support the war effort: he composes a symphony. He toils on amid the bombs, deaths and rationing to describe all the pain and suffering, the hardship and the comradery of the citizens in his music. This is his masterwork in the making, but one thing weighs on Shostakovich's mind: its premiere will either be a morale-boosting triumph for Leningrad, or a life-jeopardising tragedy.
M. T. Anderson's witty and easy-to-read biography of the great composer is a stunning work. Constructed from the limited information available about Shostakovich, this biography is a unique blend of music and history. It is the emotional story of kindness, humility, love and suffering - both of one man, and a whole nation. The story jumps wildly from humorous success, to deep personal tragedy. I found it at times gripping, and at others entertaining. Anderson's careful mixture of fact and narrative makes Symphony for the City of the Dead an enjoyable and engaging read.
Thomas B. (Student)

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