21 February 2024

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

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

To be honest, there's very little chance I would normally pick up a biography of Dmitri Shostakovich, even though such a topic does sound interesting in a hypothetical sense; I simply just don't read a ton of nonfiction. But tell me about a biography of Dmitri Shostakovich written by the best YA author currently working, M. T. Anderson, and of course I'm all over it.

Originally published: 2015
Acquired: April 2017
Read: August 2023

This takes in Shostakovich's whole life, but mostly focuses on the siege of Leningrad, when the Nazi army cut the city off from any supply lines; it chronicles Shostakovich's life up until that point but also provides a lot of historical information about the history of the Soviet Union for context. Even though it's for a YA audience, I found it totally successful for an adult audience, and even ended up recommending it to my father, a WWII buff but definitely not a YA reader, who enjoyed it so much that a couple months later he was citing facts he learned from it back to me, having forgotten I was the one who recommended it to him to begin with. Anderson even does some original research here; poking around on Google Scholar, it seems that academics are citing his work in peer-reviewed journals already.

The book is pretty horrifying. WWII-era Soviet Russia was a pretty awful place to live even before the Nazis showed up. Anderson does a great job exploring the intersection of politics and art, how art is shaped by politics and works to defy it. Anderson writes about music beautifully (no easy feat!) and really gets us into the head of Shostakovich in particular and the world of Russia in general; I learned a lot about Stalin from this, actually. Overall, excellent work, and a good example of why M. T. Anderson is one of my favorite authors full stop, not just one of my favorite YA authors.

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