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The Conductor Hardcover – 1 Jul 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Head of Zeus; First Edition First Printing edition (1 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 190880002X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908800022
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2.5 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 825,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

'[An] up-all-night page-turner... conveying the extraordinary life-saving properties of music, and hope' Observer.

'An extraordinary period of history brought into proximity by a daring novelist... Superbly imagined and brilliantly realised' Lloyd Jones.

'Deserves to be mentioned alongside Jane Smiley, Andrea Levy and Rose Tremai' Sunday Herald.

'Extraordinary ... a symphony on the power of love – the love of music, home, family, city... A triumph on every level' New Zealand Herald.

About the Author

Sarah Quigley is a New Zealand-born novelist, poet and critic. She has a D.Phil. in Literature from the University of Oxford, and has won several awards for her writing. Since winning the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writers Residency in 2000, Quigley has been based in Berlin.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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 bombarding and then starving the city into submission, many of the cultural elite is evacuated, but Shostakovich decides to stay and fight by using his own brand of courage and musical genius. In the midst of the Nazi aerial and artillery attacks, he uses this genius in the composition of the 'Leningrad Symphony', a defiant and haunting new piece, which will be relayed by loudspeakers to the front line to lift the spirits and to harden the determination of the citizens of Leningrad.

The conductor of the symphony is Karl Eliasberg, a driven individual who manages to create an orchestra out of the musicians who have been able to survive despite the starvation and the terrible conditions imposed upon them. During one of the coldest winters ever, whilst the death toll rises, the musicians struggle to cope with week after week of rehearsals, barely strong enough to hold their instruments, some dropping to the floor through hunger and exhaustion. As time goes on they, and we, begin to wonder whether these brave musicians will actually survive to see the day of the concert.

This is a challenging story to tell, but Sarah Quigley has researched her subject well and through some wonderful writing has created a remarkable story of a city that is brought to its knees but will not surrender.
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By DC on 21 Jun. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Having read a number of books on the period and location, I was disappointed both in the style and content. For atmosphere and pace, Helen Dunmore's -The Siege was a far more interesting read.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have read other books about the Siege of Leningrad and I won't say enjoyed them, such tragedy is not enjoyable, but I was impressed by them. What drew me to this book was the music. Shostakovich, Eliasberg and the tattered, starving, supposedly second rate Radio orchestra came alive for me, together with their families and friends and it was both painful and exhilarating to follow their progress from the early days of the Siege up until the performance of the Leningrad Symphony.
I agree with another reviewer that the sufferings of the city's general population seem to be viewed at a distance, but the lives of the main characters moved me intensely and I loved the music. I cannot see it as strange that the father of a missing daughter should not be prepared to give up her precious cello for a couple of tins of beans, or that Shostakovich put his composing of music before his family life. These people were artists and in the end it brought out the best in them. I felt for all of them and I loved this book. It is not overburdened with description and I feel it is all the better for that.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Shostakovich's 7th (Leningrad) Symphony was written during one the most turbulent periods in Russia during WW II. His inspiration was the siege of Leningrad in 1941 as the Nazis, who were now the enemy of Russia, were starving the people into submission and his composition mirrored every emotion that was possible to portray in music and today remains one of most memorable works of the period.

At first, I felt that this book was going to be a slow burner, it was like looking in on a series of tableaux to set the scene on each of the characters and it rather lacked coherency and feeling. I didn't feel much sympathy towards the main characters, least of all Shostakovich who was a selfish, arrogant man who refused to evacuate his family in favour of staying put to fully live the experience in his composition. But as the story progresses, it is less about the composer and more about the Conductor (of the title), Karl Eliasberg - a rather ineffectual, unpopular little man who is the butt of a lot of jokes at the second-rate Radio Orchestra where he is the conductor. He idolises Shostakovich and wants to make himself known to him and is honoured when one evening Shostakovich plays to him part of the new symphony. Quigley's writing here is nothing short of brilliant as she is describing the composition as it comes to life. As Leningrad falls further into misery and deprivation so the story now picks up pace and I was now beginning to feel the pain of these people , most notably Nicolai, the Violinist who has evacuated his daughter to the East but has not heard from her after the train she was on supposedly had been bombed by the Nazis.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Can Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony raise spirits in a Leningrad under siege? Karl Eliasberg, at his lowest ebb, is shocked by the order he conduct the seventy minute work live. How can he and a dispirited orchestra cobbled together from replacements achieve the impossible?

A grim read. There is no holding back on the horrors endured - a city in ruins, each day more deaths, dismembered corpses proof how desperate the need for food. Until ordered away to comparative safety, Shostakovich had been one of those digging ditches, on rooftop fire duty at night. All the while in his mind images and impressions evolved into phrases and themes - his next major composition to pay tribute to Leningrad's resilience.

The occasional humour is welcome, as are genuinely tender moments. Some prove totally unexpected - even obnoxious oboist Alexander responsible for one of them. Eliasberg himself is an unlikely central character - he a cold fish, self-deprecating, ill at ease in company. All the more moving is what becomes of him - once, from within, the necessary strength can be found.

Fact and fiction are here skilfully combined to create a powerful depiction of terrible times. Disturbing thoughts are triggered by readers' knowledge such conditions are not confined to history. Communities remain under fire, with terrified inhabitants struggling to survive. The only difference no music is likely to immortalize their plight. Sarah Quigley's novel illuminates and deserves to be read.
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