Review: Symphony for the City of the Dead



Goodreads Synopsis:

In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens—the Leningrad Symphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.

This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds. It is also a look at the power—and layered meaning—of music in beleaguered lives.

I should have known better. I am unable at this point to read historical books without my academic mind interfering, and I had a lot of issues with this authors approach (who I don’t believe has any background in history – which I think is a must if branching beyond historical fiction). First, it’s aimed towards YA, which I guess should have warned me about the “tell you your opinion” format of this book as opposed to presenting all the facts and letting one conclude their own ideas.

Unfortunately, the story I was so excited for when I picked this book up, didn’t seem to appear at all as the main story. Leading me to not being able to finish the book due to lack of interest and irritation with Anderson’s format. The composer makes cameos for the first half of the book, for updates about his life and the work he was doing. I would hope he is more present in the second half, but I couldn’t make it that far.

The book instead is a convoluted and summarized story of the extremely complex social and political environment of Russia during the 20th Century. Because it was such a short book, there is no way that an entire century of information can be explained, so it either should have been about five times as thick of a book, or focused solely on WWII. I also got distracted by the choppy writing style, and became infuriated by the biased remarks of the author. Don’t confuse what I’m saying, I understand these were terrible people, terrible things happened, and people were forced to live lives far beyond any horror we can imagine; but there are better ways to convey that than the author stating his opinions as fact and using shoddy sources.

Obviously you can tell this book got me a bit ranty. And if you think this is bad, be glad you aren’t my husband who heard all this as I fought to get through this book (and failed). I think more than anything I am just so disappointed, I thought this was going to be a diamond in the rough, a new and interesting take on a story we all know. But no, it was nothing close to that.



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