Human history is brutal and remarkably repetitive. Sure, we often talk about learning history so that we’re not doomed to repeat it, but actually learning history is one of those liberal intellectual activities political operatives rail against if the perspective falls anywhere outside what they deem “true”. They make refugees into terrorists and compare anyone with an opposing view to Hitler. My thoughts on this? Stalin would probably still squash every single one of them like a bug unless he was depressed that day.
How have I come to this conclusion? By reading what’s listed as teen nonfiction, of course. Symphony for the Dead is not just a biography of Dmitri Shostakovich, a composer about whom I knew almost nothing before reading this book. It’s a gripping, close-to-400 page walk through Russian history over the past century. A walk? No, that sounds too nice for what goes on. A slog? Well, that implies boring, and this is definitely not boring.
Let’s just say it’s difficult to describe, but for the person who doesn’t know much about Russian history, it’s illuminating, eye-opening, shocking and somewhat mind-bending. How does someone survive the mental and physical trauma of living through that? How does anyone create beautiful music which speaks to the soul while constantly being afraid of being exposed as a traitor to the people by supposed friends? How do you know what to believe about anything when most of what you see is a fabricated version of reality?
It’s definitely not light reading, but it’s powerful. And although it’s so good that I think it may touch the older teens it’s written for, I’m also thinking it will work for my dad, who’s in his eighties and traveled to the USSR and its various republics before the Iron Curtain fell. An odd Christmas present, perhaps, and not what you can call “a fun read”, but a gift nevertheless.
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson