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Symphony for the City of the Dead

Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

M.T. Anderson


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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (9/21/2015)
Paperback (2/7/2017)
MP3 CD (2/7/2017)
Prebound (2/7/2017)
Compact Disc (2/7/2017)
MP3 CD (9/22/2015)
Compact Disc (9/22/2015)
Compact Disc (9/22/2015)


A 2016 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Finalist

National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson delivers a brilliant and riveting account of the Siege of Leningrad and the role played by Russian composer 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—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—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, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.

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.

Praise For Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

The storytelling is captivating, describing how Shostakovich began composing the symphony under relentless bombardment in Leningrad and later finished it in Moscow, its triumphant performance in Leningrad during the siege, and how it rallied worldwide sympathy for Russia's plight. Music is at the heart of the story. 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 Reviews (starred review)

In a gripping narrative, helped along by ample photos and shockingly accurate historical details, 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)

This ambitious and gripping work is narrative nonfiction at its best...The book has all the intrigue of a spy thriller, recounts the horrors of living during the three year siege, and delineates the physical oppression and daunting foes within and outside of the city. This is also the story of survival against almost impossible odds. Through it all, Anderson weaves the thread of the composer’s music and the role it played in this larger-than-life drama. A must-have title with broad crossover appeal
—School Library Journal (starred review)

Anderson brings his narrative A-game to this dense work of nonfiction, blending the complex strands of the story into a satisfying whole. Embellished with scores of photographs and peppered with the author’s own commentary on the symphony, the text and supporting materials supply historical background for music enthusiasts and musical interpretation for history buffs. Source notes, index, and bibliography will aid report writers, but the most appreciative audience is likely to be engaged readers who settle into the tragic yet uplifting story of a suffering nation and its musical documentarian.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)

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

It culminates in a rich and moving understanding of the intersection of culture and history, and of the power of the arts to save a nation.
—Shelf Awareness

Symphony for the City of the Dead is an intense historical account that is highly recommended reading for anyone studying World War II or readers with an interest in history or music.

M.T. Anderson presents a thrilling history of music and the terrible events of World War II. Extensively researched and passionately told, Symphony for the City of the Dead exposes the strengths and weaknesses of humanity through an engrossing tale of war, art and undying creativity.

An ambitious work of nonfiction ... sweeping and emotionally charged.
—The Horn Book

...a sweeping work of narrative nonfiction for adolescent readers.
—The Wall Street Journal

A must-have for high-school classrooms and libraries. It’s the work of an author who has never jumped onto any trend-wagon, but has instead followed his own keen intelligence toward a big, essential story.
—New York Journal of Books

[Anderson's] not just parading the events of Shostakovich’s life before the reader; he’s by the reader’s side, helping them to make sense of what they see...It’s been a while since a book about Shostakovich impressed me this much. Symphony for the City of the Dead is worth reading whatever your age.
—DSCH Journal

Fans of M.T. Anderson’s National Book Award-winning YA novel, “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume 1” and acclaimed dystopian novel “Feed,” will not be surprised at the brilliance of the writing and the meticulous research on display in this marvelous, compulsively readable biography of composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the great city that inspired his Seventh Symphony.
—The Buffalo News

Candlewick, 9780763668181, 464pp.

Publication Date: September 22, 2015

About the Author

M. T. Anderson is the author of Feed, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, as well as The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume I: The Pox Party, winner of the National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller, and its sequel, The Kingdom on the Waves, which was also a New York Times bestseller. Both volumes were also named Michael L. Printz Honor Books. M. T. Anderson lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Conversation Starters from

  1. After reading the book, go back and analyze the prologue. Why does the author choose to open with the story of the microfilm? What other topics does he touch on in the prologue that prove important in the book? What storytelling elements does M. T. Anderson use to pull readers in and entice them to read the story?generic viagra price canada
  2. Describe times in Shostakovich’s life as a composer when he was publicly admired and times when he was publicly derided. What caused the different public opinions about him? What effect did the ups and downs of his fame have on his daily life and family? Talk about how he handled the changes, including his emotional responses.generic viagra price canada
  3. Violence and deprivation permeated the Soviet Union during the period covered by this book. Identify the sources of violence and the forms it took. What were the goals of those perpetrating violence? How did the violence and deprivation affect cities and the country’s cultural heritage? How did they affect families and daily life?generic viagra price canada
  4. Describe the Soviet Union’s role in World War II, including its shifting alliances with other nations. What was Stalin’s relationship with Hitler, and how did Hitler deceive him? What factors brought about Hitler’s loss to the Soviet Union? Discuss the price that the Soviets paid for their victory and talk about the aftermath of the war for the Soviet Union.generic viagra price canada
  5. In what ways did Stalin undermine his own success, especially regarding the war against Hitler? What impact did his earlier purges have on the Soviet Union’s ability to fight? How did the fear of those under him, who had seen so many colleagues killed, have a negative impact on their effectiveness during the war? Give specifics from the text in your discussion.generic viagra price canada
  6. “What is the line between art and propaganda?” (page 239). Based on your reading of the book, discuss the similarities and differences between the two. Give examples of the ways music, including Shostakovich’s music, was used as propaganda by the Soviet government. Does the artist’s intention affect whether a piece of art is propaganda?generic viagra price canada
  7. One of Shostakovich’s friends said, “He learned to put on a mask he would wear for the rest of his life” (page 139). M. T. Anderson echoes this point in the author’s note, describing the composer as “a man who learned to live behind a mask” (page 382). Note other examples of this metaphor as you read and discuss the way it relates to the composer’s life, the lives of those around him, and the political situation.generic viagra price canada
  8. “A symphony is built not just by the composer, the conductor, and the musicians, but by the audience” (page 281). This idea is raised more than once in the narrative. Discuss what the author means and give examples from the text of different audience reactions to Shostakovich’s symphonies in different places, including the United States.generic viagra price canada
  9. Symphony for the City of the Dead reveals the power of music in people’s lives in the Soviet Union during a certain time period. Discuss the different roles that music plays in your life and the lives of those around you. Compare its importance in your life to its importance to people in the book. What would your life be like without music?generic viagra price canada
  10. Unlike many nonfiction authors, M. T. Anderson addresses the reader directly at times. In one example, he says, “It is easy for us all to imagine we are heroes when we are sitting in our kitchens, dreaming of distant suffering” (page 117). As you read, take note of similar passages or times that the author’s voice comes through in phrases such as, “No need to worry at all. Happy New Year” (page 160). Discuss this approach and the reason the author takes it, tying your analysis to specific passages and their context. Analyze M. T. Anderson’s overall point of view toward Shostakovich and his music, grounding your analysis in the text.generic viagra price canada
  11. Throughout the book, M. T. Anderson discusses problems with his sources and their reliability. Early on, he evaluates an anecdote about Shostakovich seeing Lenin (pages 24-26). Discuss this story and the way the author handles the issues around its credibility. Relate this analysis to Anderson’s comments on page 140 about the credibility of Shostakovich’s purported memoir and his further discussion in the author’s note (pages 381-383) about the trustworthiness of sources in the Soviet era. Discuss other examples in the text where the author deals with similar issues.generic viagra price canada
  12. Contemporaneous photographs are primary sources that provide information about a time and place. What role do historic photographs play in this book? What kind of information do they add? What emotions do they evoke? Study several of the photographs carefully and discuss them in detail.generic viagra price canada
  13. M. T. Anderson writes in the prologue that “at its heart,” the book is “a story about the power of music and its meanings” (page 7). Read the rest of that paragraph and talk about it. After finishing the book, discuss whether you agree with the author’s words. In what ways is the book about the power of music? How did music help people feel less alone?generic viagra price canada