STARRED REVIEW
October 2015

The music of wartime

By M.T. Anderson
Review by
M.T. Anderson (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing) presents a thrilling history of music and the terrible events of World War II. Extensively researched and passionately told, Symphony for the City of the Dead exposes the strengths and weaknesses of humanity through an engrossing tale of war, art and undying creativity.
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Before Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in September 1941, Stalin was already killing his own people. Foolishly, Stalin allied with Hitler before realizing too late that Russia was another target.

Leningrad was home to composer Dmitri Shostakovich, whose works taunted Stalin but were just shy of rebellion. His peers were murdered for being traitors, and he often feared for his life. But art must be created, if only to show that we are human, and while Leningrad lay under siege and its people nearly starved to death, Shostakovich’s seventh symphony became an obsession. For two and a half years, Leningrad residents ate rancid rations, grass, pets and resorted to cannibalism. They burned books for warmth along with floorboards, walls and other remains of bombarded buildings. More than a million people died. Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony told the story of Stalin’s assaults on his own people, of Hitler’s crushing entrapment of the city, and life amid this torture. The symphony captured the story of Leningrad’s people; it rallied them and encouraged them to survive.

M.T. Anderson (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing) presents a thrilling history of music and the terrible events of World War II. Extensively researched and passionately told, Symphony for the City of the Dead exposes the strengths and weaknesses of humanity through an engrossing tale of war, art and undying creativity.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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