Wow, I had such good intentions back at the beginning of the year! Unfortunately, the winter blahs hit me big time, as well as a major reading slump. I am going to try to do better going forward, but for now here are a couple of quick mini reviews of what I did manage to finish in January:
Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II by Anna Reid
and Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
I read two books this January covering the siege of Leningrad by the Germans during World War II, during which the Russian city was entirely surrounded, few people or supplies could get in or out, and possibly a million people died in total. The first, by Anna Reid, was published about five years ago and covers the siege in great detail, using first-hand sources both from diaries written during the Siege and from interviews with survivors years later. One of the most fascinating parts of the book to me was the way the Soviet government’s treatment of the siege flip-flopped over time, from trying to bury knowledge of it as much as possible, to broadcasting the Leningrad people’s strength and resilience in the face of starvation as an effective propaganda tool.
Reid follows several people in particular, most of them members of the city’s intelligentsia, who to be fair had the most ability and inclination to keep a record of what was happening. One of the people she follows in some detail is the composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who is M.T. Anderson’s subject in his latest book, a weighty work of nonfiction aimed at a teenage audience, but which I think most adults interested in the subject will find just as informative and fascinating. Shostakovich wrote most of his 7th Symphony while living in Leningrad during the Siege, and its inaugural performance during the midst of the war became an international sensation, although Shostakovich himself faced repeating persecution by the Soviet government as power changed hands and he and his music went in and out of favor. Anyone who read Anderson’s Octavian Nothing books knows he can write moving and beautiful fiction about dark times in history, and Symphony for the City of the Dead shows that he can do the same in nonfiction. One big bonus that unfortunately isn’t found enough in nonfiction aimed at teens are Anderson’s notes and long list of sources, and his discussion of his process of writing and sifting through and evaluating conflicting accounts. I would recommend this to any teen interested in history, and most of those who think they aren’t.
*Both books count towards my Around the World Reading Challenge*