Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson explores the life of 20th century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and shares a detailed perspective on the Russian Revolution and rise of the Soviet Union, as well as the horrors of World War ll and Shostakovich's affect on the war with his famed Leningrad Symphony.
The first aspect of Symphony for the City of the Dead that captured my attention was the cover art. With its eye-catching uses of color, the cover of this non-fiction novel reminds me of propaganda posters seen during World War ll and the Cold War. It perfectly fits the atmosphere of this book. Although I tend to discourage judging a book by its cover, if I had seen M.T. Anderson's new work in a book store, I am certain that the cover art would have immediately drawn me in and motivated me to pick it up.
I was naturally drawn to this book both as a musician and as an appreciator of music, but also because I have a passion for modernist music, particularly by Igor Stravinsky and Dmitri Shostakovich. It was an interesting experience for me to learn about Dmitri Shostakovich's life in such detail, because, despite the fact that I love Shostakovich's work, I had hardly any knowledge of his life or the impact that he had, prior to reading this non-fiction novel. Reading his story gave me an even deeper appreciation for Shostakovich's compositions.
After reading the official summary for Symphony for the City of the Dead, I was unaware that it covers more historical events than the Siege of Leningrad. It begins with chronicling Dmitri Shostakovich's childhood during the Russian Revolution, and then indicates issues with communist Russia and Joesph Stalin's leadership, and Shostakovich's impact on and experiences with these times. I love that this non-fiction novel utilizes a not so well-known perspective on well-known historical events. While reading this book, I was given the opportunity to better understand a point of view disparate from the American perspective that I am more familiar with.
One thing is for certain, this book is packed full of information. It is clear that M.T. Anderson did his research. This is one of those books that I might not re-read in its entirety any time soon, but I am certain that I will continue to refer to for the useful information that can be found in its pages. It would be perfect to use for reference in a history class that covers these topics, because it shares such an in-depth perspective on some of the biggest moments in Russian history.
The only drawback that I could think of with this book was that the way the author chose to narrate in certain areas. These areas feel a little unfocused. This isn't a necessarily bad thing, and once I adjusted to the atmosphere I was able to enjoy it. In order to tell Shotakovich's story, you have to understand what was happening in the world around him, therefore the information the author includes makes sense and proves useful in fully experiencing the book as a whole.
In conclusion, M.T. Anderson's Symphony for the City of the Dead is a slow-paced yet informative tome that I feel would be better enjoyed gradually and leisurely, but a well-written and well-researched historical compilation nonetheless. I highly recommend this non-fiction novel to those interested in Russian history and creative arts during the 20th century.