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Symphony for the City of the Dead


M. T. Anderson delivers a riveting account of the Siege of Leningrad and the role played in World War II by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and his Leningrad Symphony.

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 — two and a half years of bombardment and starvation. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, the relatives of the dead having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Desperate citizens burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and — eventually — even 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. This testament of courage was copied onto microfilm, driven across the Middle East, and flown across the deserts of North Africa to be performed in the United States — where it played a surprising role in strengthening the Grand Alliance against the Axis powers.

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. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a masterwork thrillingly told and impeccably researched by National Book Award-winning author M. T. Anderson.

“A gripping narrative … Anderson offers readers a captivating account of a genius composer and the brutally stormy period in which he lived. Though easily accessible to teens, this fascinating, eye- opening, and arresting book will be just as appealing for adults.” — Booklist (starred review)

“The storytelling is captivating … As Anderson writes in the prologue, ‘it is a story about the power of music and its meanings,’ and he communicates them with seeming effortlessness in this brilliantly written, impeccably researched tour de force. A triumphant story of bravery and defiance that will shock and inspire.” — Kirkus (starred review)

“A fascinating…examination of an important musical figure living in a time of extraordinary political and social turmoil.” — Publishers Weekly

“Sweeping and emotionally charged.” — Horn Book

“I rarely say this, but you have to read this book. Bravo, Mr. Anderson, Bravo!” — GuysLitWire

Author’s note here. Videos of M. T. Anderson discussing the book here and here!

Interviews with M. T. Anderson about the book from School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.

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