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This review is from: The Conductor (Hardcover)
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June, 1941. Nazi troops surround the city of Leningrad, planning to shell and starve the people into submission. Most of the cultural elite is evacuated, but the famous composer Shostakovich stays behind to defend his city. That winter, the bleakest in Russian history, the Party orders Karl Eliasberg, the shy, difficult conductor of a second-rate orchestra, to conduct a performance of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony to be relayed by loudspeakers to the front lines. For five freezing months the conductor stubbornly drives on his musicians... but at what cost? Eliasberg's relationships are strained, obsession takes hold. Now, it's a struggle not just to perform, but to stay alive.
The following winter is one of the bleakest in Russian history. Karl Eliasberg, a shy, difficult conductor of a second-rate orchestra is asked to prepare for the task of his lifetime: to conduct Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, which will be broadcast from the front lines. Eliasberg faces all manner of difficulties when preparing for this task; an unable mother; starving, malnourished musicians who barely have to strength to stand, never mind play their instruments. But for five long months Eliasberg defies the odds stacked against him and stubbornly pushes his musicians to success, whilst at the same time trying to overcome his own demons.
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, 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 horrible to think about. And yet the story is not too bleak or depressing because it's not just 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.
A stunning and beautifully written novel, which delves deep into the heart of Leningrad during what must have been their darkest period.
This book is stark and beautiful, intermingling the tales of the different characters and bringing forth the bitter experience they all shared. It is evocative, bittersweet and overall a fantastic read.
My only complaint is that the ending seemed rather abrupt and I did not want it to end.