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Summary: Dmitri "Mitya" Shostakovich was born in (Tsarist Russia and grew up in the Soviet Union. Although he traveled to Moscow, Odessa, and other places, his home was St. Petersburg / Petrograd / Leningrad. In his youth, he lived an upper middle class life, with his father encouraging his musical talents. Just as his genius was being recognized, Mitya suffered his first personal blow: his father died. This created hardship for the family, but his mother insisted that Dmitri continue to focus on his art. During the 1930s, with Stalin in control, art was no longer a creative endeavor. First, it was a mouthpiece of the Soviet government. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Shostakovich joined the Red Army to protect his beloved Leningrad. He also continued to write music to support the troops. This young adult nonfiction book is a biography that also has a detailed history of life in Russia/Soviet Union from the 1920s to 1940s
Type of Reading: independent reading,
Recommended Age: read together: 13 and Up; read yourself: 13 and Up
Interest Level: 13 and Up
Reading Level: 7.9
Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.
Adult Reader Reaction: This is an exceptionally well written book. I had a hard time characterizing it as a Shostakovich biography or Russian/Soviet history, because it exhaustively detailed in both areas. I was immediately pulled in by the "end game" of the Seventh Symphony, and kept reading. After a while, though, it got harder to keep reading. I understood that there were critical events in Mitya's world that influenced his work, but those details bogged down (and lost sight of) the intrigue offered in Chapter 1 until well into the book (page 300ff). It is an exceptional work, but not for every reader.
Pros: Fascinating detail engage readers interested in history, art, and politics. They will likely be surprised (and keep reading) as they discover the mashups among them.
Cons: The length and level of detail may deter some readers. There are a lot of people and keeping them straight can require re-reading. An annotated list, broken out by category (Arts and Culture; family; Soviet Government; etc) would have helped. Describing the results of the siege of Leningrad includes detailed descriptions of cannibalism.
Borrow or Buy: Borrow. This is a book for Russo-philes, history buffs and musicologists. It is more likely to be read as reference material.
Educational Themes: There are many layers to Symphony for the City of the Dead. It is Dmitri Shostakovich's biography, but it is also offers detailed insight into art history, cultural discussions (what is art? government use of art)); where art "comes from" and how it is made. There is a lot of material that offers exceptional first-hand material about life in Tsarist Russia; Leninist and Stalinist Soviet Union; and World War II
Notes: This reviewer borrowed a copy of this book from the library for the 2015 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award (Cybils) process. This review is not intended to represent the opinions of the Cybils. The book will be donated to a reader in need.
Literary Categories: Nonfiction - biography, Russian History, Soviet History, War, performing arts
Date(s) Reviewed: January 2016
Other Reviews: See Critics' Reviews and reader feedback at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.