Saturday, August 01, 2020

What I Didn't Know About 20th Century Russian History Filled A Book

My faithful followers may have been wondering if I am ever going to read another book, or at least write about one here. Put your minds at rest. I recently finished Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson. This is a historical work, not historical fiction. I am going to be upfront here and say:
  • I think it should have been called Dmitri Shostakovich and An Introduction to Communist Russia, since the actual siege doesn't come until well into the book.
  • Also, I found this a little long, probably because there was such a long wait for the siege I'd been promised in the title.
  • And then there's the issue that I am an old fart who will never give up wanting footnotes sprinkled through a historical text that I'm reading so that I can be assured that there is documentation for this point or that point, and I don't have to go hunting through the end notes to see if it exists. Yeah, I'm never going to see that again.
I'm also going to be upfront and tell you that Symphony for the City of the Dead was on the longlist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2015. (The winner that year was Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.)


  • Anderson uses Shostakovich as an entry point to discuss the period he lived in. That's not unusual. In fact, most works on historical figures need to include information on the world that formed them.
  • I am truly embarrassed that I knew so little about the Siege of Leningrad before reading this book. I was aware that the Soviet Union suffered huge losses during World War II, but I didn't know anything specifically about Leningrad. I had heard and read plenty about London during the Blitz. Why has Leningrad's suffering and survival not been more prominent? My high school history courses often didn't get all the way to World War II. I wasn't that interested in twentieth century history when I was in college. So this could be on me. And, yet, as I said, I know about the Blitz.
  • Am I the only person who thinks M.T. Anderson and Dmitri Shostakovich look alike? Come on.
  • I spent a lot of time bitching about Joseph Stalin while I was reading this.
  • Yes, I've been listening to a little Shostakovich recently.
Symphony for the City of the Dead is one of three nonfiction books I can think of off the top of my head that I didn't totally embrace while reading but that shifted, or at least enhanced, my world view.

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