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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Testament to the Human Spirit and to the Power of Music
Sarah Quigley's 'The Conductor' is a rather remarkable novel, combining fact with fiction, set during the siege of Leningrad which begins in 1941. The story follows three main characters: the composer, Shostakovich, the conductor, Karl Eliasberg, and a fictional character, a musician, Nikolai Nikolayev. As Nazi troops surround the city of Leningrad with the intention of...
Published on 10 July 2012 by Susie B

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Duff note struck...
Like several other reviewers, I expected to really enjoy this book, devour it at a sitting and be hit by its emotional force. But, for some reason, none of this happened and I finally finished it last week, having started it back in September.

All the ingredients for a great story are there - city under siege, artist creating a masterpiece under inhuman...
Published 21 months ago by H. T. Davies


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5.0 out of 5 stars Shostakovich with a difference, 6 Nov 2012
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This review is from: The Conductor (Kindle Edition)
A tale skillfully weaving fiction with historical fact. Dealing with the World War 2 siege of Leningrad, it offers an insight into the suffering and eventual triumph of the non-military population. Whether you read this from a war position, or from a music one, it is hugely enjoyable.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, moving, 1 Nov 2012
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John Crawford (Bergamo, Italy) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Conductor (Kindle Edition)
Yes, I found this book enlightening: generally about life in Russia in the forties, in the shadow of the Stalin years; specifically about the privations due to the German besiege of Leningrad; of the unimaginable world that musicians - composers, players and inbetween them conductors - inhabit, in any time but particularly under these grim conditions.
When I finished the book I vowed to get Shostakovich's seventh symphony.
Not many books can do that!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and enjoyable, 26 Oct 2012
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This review is from: The Conductor (Hardcover)
I have read before about the siege of Leningrad, but by mixing history and fiction, this book makes the privations of the siege personal and realistic. The main characters such as Shostakovic and the Conductor are real people and I'm sure the author did a lot of research on the subject, but the feelings and what they say are fictionalised. To me this does not detract from the book, it is not aiming to be a history but to give some idea of what it actually felt like to be there and in this she succeeds.

A number of the earlier reviews are fantastic and I won't try to rival them, but this book is well worth reading if you want to try to get inside the heads of some of the people who suffered the siege. If you want to read history or detail about the music, this book is not for you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A moving story of a city under siege, 19 Sep 2012
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Helen S - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Conductor (Hardcover)
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It's 1941 and Russia is now at war with Germany. As the Nazis surround Leningrad with the aim of starving the city into submission, the composer Dmitri Shostakovich begins work on his Seventh Symphony. While other important musicians are being evacuated, Shostakovich insists on remaining to help defend his city. To his wife, Nina, the real reason he doesn't want to leave is because he doesn't want to be disturbed while writing his symphony and it seems to her that he is putting his music before the welfare of his family.

During the siege, the government orders that the Seventh Symphony be performed to raise the morale of the Soviet troops at the front. Since the members of Leningrad's famous Philharmonic Orchestra and their conductor Mravinsky have already been removed from the city, the job of performing the Seventh Symphony falls to another, less highly regarded conductor, Karl Eliasberg and the second-rate Radio Orchestra. Eliasberg finally has the chance to do something great, but it's not going to be easy...of the musicians who have stayed in Leningrad through the long, cold Russian winter some of them are dead and the others barely have the strength to lift their instruments. Alongside the stories of Shostakovich and Eliasberg is the story of a third man, Nikolai Nikolayev, and his beloved nine-year-old daughter, Sonya. Nikolai must make the heartbreaking decision of whether to risk sending Sonya out of Leningrad on her own while he stays behind to continue his work as violinist in the orchestra.

The Siege of Leningrad was surely one of the most horrific episodes of the Second World War. This book was maybe not quite as emotional as other novels I've read on the same subject but it was still very moving. The idea of people being so hungry they're driven to boiling down leather briefcases for protein or mixing water and hair oil to make soup, while watching as their family and friends die one by one of starvation or cold, is just horrible to think about. And yet the story is not too bleak or depressing because it's not only about war and suffering - it's also about the power of art and music and how something good can come from even the worst circumstances imaginable.

The characters Sarah Quigley has chosen to focus on in this novel are all interesting, three-dimensional people who each have their own set of problems and obstacles to overcome during the siege. My favourite was Karl Eliasberg, the conductor of the book's title. Based on a real person but one who we don't know much about, the author imagines him as a shy, awkward man with low self-esteem, desperate to have his talents recognised and to be accepted by the cultural elite. Shostakovich is his idol but every time he comes face to face with him he finds himself saying the wrong things and failing to give the impression he was hoping to give. Eliasberg's character is so well-written and believable I felt I could really understand him and empathise with him.

Despite Shostakovich being one of the central characters and the story revolving around one of his compositions, you don't really need any knowledge of classical music to enjoy this novel. However, I would highly recommend listening to the Seventh Symphony either during or after reading the book - it's definitely worth it!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating subject but not so fascinating characters, 11 Sep 2012
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Janie U (Kings Cliffe, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Conductor (Hardcover)
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The siege of Leningrad has huge potential for fiction and this book was anticipated to be an emotional journey, with the passion of music pushing the characters to their limits under intolerable circumstances.
Overall the plot is interesting and there will be something to learn for everyone with even a vague interest in Russian history.
The disappointment about the book is that it doesn't bring out enough emotion. The characters are generally not engaging and not explored enough.
It is ok to read and worth reading as some people loved it although i came away from it feeling unsatisfied. I don't have a big interest in classical music which I think effected my enjoyment although I hadn't expected this. It is historical fiction and while it covers plenty of the facts and includes lots of fiction there is no feeling that the two are pulled together.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not as moving as I thought it would be, 9 Sep 2012
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Denise4891 (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Conductor (Hardcover)
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The Conductor is a fictionalised account of the Siege of Leningrad which is conveyed through the stories of three musicians - Dmitri Shostakovich, the conductor Karl Eliasberg and a fictional violinist, Nikolai Nikolayev. The story starts in 1941 as Nazi troops are approaching the outskirts of Leningrad. The cultural elite are being given free passes by the ruling Communists to flee to safety in other parts of Russia but Shostakovic chooses to stay behind at first, and insists that his wife and their two young children stay with him.

Amidst the horror and devastation of the siege, the portrayal of the Eliasberg and his fellow musicians' determination to perform Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony in the composer's home town is portrayed as brave and defiant. However, the fact that they were given extra rations and other privileges by the ruling Party so that the performance could be broadcast around the world as a symbol of Russian pride and defiance was less inspiring, at a time when their fellow citizens were freezing and starving to death in the streets.

I found Elias and Nikolayev to be very strong and sympathetic characters, but Quigley's portrayal of Shostakovich didn't endear him to me, and I'll hold my hands up and say I'm not particularly fond of classical music so perhaps I found it difficult to empathise with the performers and appreciate how important their act of defiance was to the survival of the city and its people. However, I am a lover of historical fiction and find Russian history particularly fascinating (which is what drew me to the book). This was an interesting and very well written read but I wasn't quite as moved as I expected to be and it didn't inspire or ignite me in the way that other accounts of the Siege of Leningrad have.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Conductor, 9 Sep 2012
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Moonlit (scotland) - See all my reviews
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The Conductor is an appealing novel about the siege of Leningrad. But more than that, it is about the composition, under dire circumstances, of a work of art: Shostakovitch's Seventh Symphony, the Leningrad. The author has taken artistic liberty to assume that the Leningrad was composed as a 'direct response to the invasion of Leningrad'. This is most likely not the case but the assumption works well in the context of the novel.

When Leningrad is attacked by the Nazis, most elite musicians are ordered to leave. Shostakovitch is determined to stay to defend the city and also to complete his work there. Other, lesser musicians do not have the opportunity to leave. Eliasberg, a minor conductor (his is a second rate orchestra in comparison to the philharmonic which has left) and Nicolai, a friend of Shostakovitch are among those left behind.

The Conductor follows the trials of these three men during the siege. Elias (as he is known throughout) has to struggle with his musicians to get them to produce any work at all. When he is ordered by the Party to perform the Leningrad, he is both thrilled and terrified as to how he will manage to produce a tolerable performance when his musicians are dying from hunger. Nicolai, a violinist in the orchestra is barely alive, desperate from grieving both for his wife who died several years before and his daughter whom he fears may have been killed on the journey out of Leningrad. Shostakovitch, lost in his determination to finish the symphony, neglects his wife and family.

This novel is bound to be compared to Helen Dunmore's The Siege. The Siege is one of my favourite novels and it is true that The Conductor doesn't have the same impact as the Siege. It doesn't quite make you feel that you are there with the characters, feeling the hunger tear them apart and the cold gnaw at their bones. The atmosphere of fear and terror which is present in The Siege is somewhat missing from this novel too although we are told about it. However the depiction of the creative process is excellent and Shostakovitch in particular, comes alive as a character as does his seventh symphony. Recommended.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for lovers of the Leningrad symphony., 23 Aug 2012
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Mondoro (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Whilst Helen Dunmore and Gillian Slovo have produced books which are better at conveying the hunger,desperation and sheer cold experienced by people during the siege of Leningrad than this novel by Sarah Quigley, nevertheless The Conductor is an outstanding book. The main theme is how the destruction of his city inspired Shostakovich to compose the most outstanding symphony to come out of Russia in the twentieth century. Quigley introduces a number of real and fictional characters to turn this story into a compelling combination of fact and fiction. It is almost impossible for anyone to comprehend how the citizens of Leningrad could have possibly survived the appalling starvation, deprivation and destruction inflicted upon them during the German siege of their city in WWII. Of course millions of them did not, but one of the main things those who survived have credited with playing a part in boosting their determination to come through the terrible winter of l941, was the performance of Shostakovich's 7th symphony by a cold, hungry but determined group of musicians under the baton of Karl Eliasberg. A strength of the novel is that Shostakovich does not always come out as an heroic figure - he insists his wife and children stay with him in the beleaguered city long after a less self centred person would have let them flee to safely. He does, however, emerge as a rather charming, eccentric,lovable man. The true hero of this novel is the conductor Karl Eliasberg. A quiet, modest, unassuming man filled with a strength of determination which enables him to create an orchestra out of a bunch of freezing, starving near to death motley collection of musicians. It is impossible not to warm to this shy, delightful person. If possible listen to Shostakovich's Symphony Number 7 in C major, Op 60 "Leningrad" before reading this book so its insistent powerful beat rings in your ears all the time you are reading. Listen to it again after finishing the book and be even more awe struck by the work of sheer genius that came from the terrible days of the siege.fjs
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intelligently-written, but less convincing and moving than expected, 18 Aug 2012
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Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Conductor (Hardcover)
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I expected to love this book: from the blurb, a story of defiance and inspiration through music set against the siege of Leningrad. Sadly, however, I found this disappointingly unsubtle, and the historical background unconvincing.

This is the kind of narrative where I found myself on the outside, always conscious that I was reading a book, rather than being drawn into and living the story. There are unsubtle `messenger speeches', for example, where strangers burst into bars in order to give us an update on the war situation; and the number of people who openly criticise Stalin, in public, feels historically unlikely.

It's perhaps unfair to criticise a book for not doing something which I expected it to: after all, this is Quigley's book and she's entitled to write what she wants - but this would have been a fine opportunity to consider what it might mean to compose a piece of ideologically-based art given that Shostakovich is writing his Seventh Symphony, known as the Leningrad; and what it might mean to be a Soviet artist.

I'm perhaps sounding overly critical as there are some good portraits here, of Eliasberg, particularly, the awkward, graceless conductor; though I found Shostakovich and Nicolai both less knowable and more stereotypical. And some of the moments of musical inspirations are nicely conveyed.

So this is an intelligent novel - just less historically-convincing, thoughtful and moving than I expected it to be.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fictional tale woven into historical fact, 18 Nov 2012
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Andy_atGC (London UK) - See all my reviews
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The Siege of Leningrad was a major event of WW2 and one which largely influenced its eventual outcome. Hitler's attempt to take the city was very similar to Napoleon's attempt to take Moscow approximately one and a half centuries earlier and both had misjudged the will of the people and the depth of Russian winters. Its timing was poorly judged, the troops were ill-prepared and improperly equipped. Mechanical equipment literally froze in the extreme temperatures. Had the Siege not so withered the strength and will of hundreds of thousands of German troops, resulting in the deaths of at least tens of thousands on both sides of the conflict, much of the Middle East would probably now be part of Greater Germany and the whole world would be a very different place.

The Leningrad Symphony Orchestra broadcast concerts over the radio to raise public morale and its efforts form part of this story.

The story of the Siege is much recorded on film, both documentary and fictional, and in books and again as fact and fiction. This book adds to that number. Its story is an interesting mixture of fact and fiction, apparently well researched. It is definitely worth reading for its historical context if no other.
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The Conductor
The Conductor by Sarah Quigley (Hardcover - 1 July 2012)
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