Symphony for the City of the Dead

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

by M.T.Anderson

2016 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults  and Horn Book Finalist

456 pgs. (72 pages of Source Notes), photographs included.

dmitri

Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony was captured on microfilm and then sent on a journey, crossing the majority of the world’s continents to reach Washington D.C. – a gift of thanks from the Russians to the Americans for their supply of armaments and food in the Russian struggle against the German Luftwaffe.  On June 2nd, 1942, after traveling almost 20,000 miles, the unthinkable happens.  The agent responsible for the safe delivery of the microfilm went to lunch and left it on his tray as he went out..

So begins a fascinating but devastating account of the period culminating in the German invasion of Russia and, in particular, the siege of Leningrad.  I think that this book should be on everybody’s shelf.  It is so well written and so expertly researched. One gets a very clear picture of both Hitler and Stalin, two maniacal dictators, both driven by  “short-sighted, almost delirious, egotism”, and who inflicted inconceivable suffering on millions of people. This book unpacks the repercussions of their capricious malevolence.

In the midst of this, Anderson tells the miraculous story of Dmitri Shostakovich.  He tells the story with compassion and understanding of the fragile and brilliant Russian composer.

Hands down, this was the best book I read this year.