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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 November 2012
But I loved this book. The richness of description and the depth of feeling of the characters made this a very satisfying novel. A period in history I did not know much about and now would like to know more.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Much has been written about the front line activity during the WW2 siege of Leningrad, this book gives us a perspective on the lives of civilians trapped behind the lines of this cultural city both before and during the hostilities. The tragedy which befell these unfortunates is well described through diverse characters who have the cultural backgrounds much prevalent in this city in pre-war times, including of course the renowned composer Shostakovitch. You will never forget the graphic descriptions of lives lived under such appalling circumstances. Recommended for all students of this war, or war in general. The forgotten victims.
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on 8 October 2013
This is a truly great book. Great as in the sense of good, inspirational, deeply moving yet unsentimental. The heroism of the musicians who battled starvation and exhaustion to learn and perform Shostakovitch' 7th Symphony while the city was besieged and cut off and of their conductor who inspired and cajoled them into achieving the impossible is a story that richly deserves to enter into the stuff off legend. Sarah Quigley might just have helped that to happen by bringing the story vividly back to life for generations to come.

Ideally should be read while listening to the symphony............Several times obviously.
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on 1 November 2012
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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 October 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
My wife acquired this for me knowing my interest in the subject matter. For those unaware of it, the story of Shostakovich's searingly powerful Symphony No.7; it's composition under the conditions of the siege of Leningrad, its simultaneous broadcast premiere In Britain, Russia and the US, and the defiant performance in Leningrad on the point of the city's collapse from starvation is one of the most epic in the mythology of classical music. It is a story that is certainly worthy of hearing, even for those who have no knowledge or affinity with the music. However, I found in Sarah Quigley's novelistic retelling for the most part something oddly lacking. It is apparent from the acknowledgements that she has read the standard biographical materials on the life of Shostakovich, and it will seem to anyone that knows those sources that she has largely lifted a series of anecdotes from them and strung them together in a rather stiffly mechanical manner. Unfortunately, I cannot speak for the experience of a reader unfamiliar with these sources. It may well be that the sense of incongruous cut-and-paste that I experienced would be absent for such a reader. Although much of the story unfolds during the German approach to the city, there is little sense of the barely suppressed panic and hysteria, nor of the anguish at the loss of loved ones on behalf of all around. Curiously, it is only in the last quarter of the novel, after Shostakovich himself, who has featured as a central character has been evacuated, and the biographical sources fall away, that the remaining characters suddenly spring into relief and we find ourselves inhabiting the minds of people we really care about in appalling conditions. I am prepared to concede that if Quigley had handled the biographical material with a little more tact the whole might have been engaging as the final part. The writing isn't bad; it's not great literature, but neither is it pulp. Once she let's go of the biographical domain and fully enters a world of her own invention then the characters and events light up quite beautifully. It is just a shame that it was so long into the novel before she gave herself permission to do so. Incidentally, she manages to entirely miss out the epic artillery duel that took place during the Leningrad performance in which German gunners tried to take out the concert hall, but the superior Russian gunners were able to range on to and destroy the relevant German guns instead.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 6 November 2012
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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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 18 August 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 11 January 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really enjoyed this book. It had a lot of historical detail in it, whilst also being a really good story that kept me turning the pages. It really gets you thinking about what it must have been like to live through those times.
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