Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
2016 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and Horn Book Finalist
456 pgs. (72 pages of Source Notes), photographs included.
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.
I just finished three books and two were good, but one was fantastic. Lets start with my favorite.
Brian Selznick The Boy of a Thousand Faces was originally published in 2000. It is a very short story (40 pages) about a boy who loves monsters, and old monster movies. Mr. Selznick came to a broader audience with his wonderfully written and illustrated book The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Jan 30, 2007) but he has been writing and illustrating books for many years. Just like in Hugo, the history of films (in this case monster movies) is a central part of “Thousand Faces”. Just like in Hugo our main character is a young boy, (Alonzo King, born on Halloween), and also like in Hugo, Alonzo’s interaction with a man who tried to forget his past is what makes this book more than a simple story. Mr. Selznick intersperses hand illustrations with photos, and beautifully written text. Good for younger grades. It is in the Winston Library: JF SEL
Ok, the next book is by George Korman a children’s book writer who’s wildly popular “39 clues” books and his other series about a Doberman “Swindle” have been published all over the world. This newest book is about a 12 year old boy Jax and his ability to persuade (aka hypnotize) people. The story is well written, and focuses on the idea of “If you can do something, should you? And what are the consequences beyond yourself.” Which for a tween book is refreshing. Our hero can come off a little above his 12 year old age, and I am not that sure the set up needs to be quite as long (how often do you need an out of body experience where people do whatever you ask them to before you go hmmmm might be a connection) However, it is a fantasy aimed at 8-12 year olds so the story needs to lead a little and it is not heavy handed. Like any good fantasy you need a big bad guy, and this one has a philanthropist with a “center” who controls most of the world’s leading figures and is setting out to rig the elections in the US. You also need a sidekick, which is found in the charming Tommy, colorblind and immune to Jax’s early powers. Good read, no real violence to speak of, and the story poses some interesting questions about free will. I have read four books similar to this one recently and the “ordinary extraordinary” kid heroes seem to be a theme right now. They do one thing, really well, and a government or institution is out to exploit their abilities for nefarious purposes. (Yes I used Nefarious in a sentence.) Winston Library: JF KOR
The last book is Charles Dickens: Scenes from an Extraordinary Life by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom.
This book is an illustrated biography that uses abridged or adapted letters written by or about Dickens to tell about a time in his life with story board summaries of his books written that year in the margin. I am not a great fan of this type of book because it is not a real story, it is more a timeline with some text thrown in. However, if you are trying to get a kid interested in “Oliver Twist” and don’t want to use a Disney Musical to do it, then this is a painless way to show how interesting his stories were and it does do a good job of summarizing them. It gives a complete history of Dickens’ life and drops bits of local and world events here and there. The illustrations are charming, but the hand written call outs are distracting. Winston Library: BIO DIC