Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
by M.T. Anderson
Candlewick, 2015. 456 pgs. Nonfiction
Three percent of the world's population died in World War II, and thirteen percent of Russia's population died in the same war. Eight hundred thousand to a million of those people died in the siege of Leningrad, when Hitler decided that rather than waste troops and armaments on taking the city, he would just surround it and let the population surrender or starve. They starved. Dmitri Shostakovich was born in Leningrad and was considered a hero of the Russian Revolution musically. It was not long into Stalin's tenure when Shostakovich and many other Russian artists realized that the Revolution had devolved into brutal totalitarianism and if they expressed their true feelings in their music, or writing, or art, they would be exiled or killed. By framing the story of Leningrad in the Second World War with Shostakovich's life, M.T. Anderson has created a powerful, heartbreaking narrative of human endurance and determination. Those most likely to die in Leningrad were those who tried to live by saving their strength; those who lived kept going to work, kept sharing and cultivating their gifts and talents, and kept creating. A staging of "The Three Musketeers" was completed with only two of the musketeers standing. One had died on stage. Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony was performed while the city was still under siege, by a skeletal orchestra whose conductor could barely lift his hands to lead them. Symphony for the City of the Dead is an extraordinary story of unbelievable suffering and determination. Written for young people, it speaks to all ages and, indeed, might best be reserved for the later grades of high school and on up. The story of Russian suffering between Hitler and Stalin has not been as well told as many of the other horrors of World War II. This books makes a good start towards redressing that imbalance.