Saving Lives With Music: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

We talk with M.T. Anderson about his new book Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad. It tells the story of how Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony inspired the resistance of the people of Leningrad to one of the most brutal sieges in history, that mounted by Hitler’s Army in World War II.

And with the world climate talks happening in Paris, we consider the intersection between climate change — and terrorism. We air a clip from our 2011 interview with Christian Parenti about his book, Tropic of Chaos.

M.T. Anderson

CoverIt’s Leningrad 1941. The German Army has laid siege to the city and people are dying of starvation. Stalin’s Terror has decimated the Soviet Union’s military, eviscerating its power to resist the Nazi onslaught. Consider this: more people will die during the siege of Leningrad than Americans in all wars combined.

Hitler declared his intention to utterly annihilate this city, the cultural heart and soul of Russia — and he nearly succeeded. But, as M.T. Anderson shows in his terrific new book, Symphony For The City of the Dead, the weakening morale of the people was rallied by a great piece of music. It was Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, the so-called Leningrad Symphony.

He wrote it as the bombs fell around him. The score was smuggled out on a perilous journey by air, played in America and broadcast around the world. The symphony told a story that inspired the beleaguered people of Leningrad and let the world know what was happening to them at the hands of the German army.

Anderson’s book is written for a teenage readership. But it’s a thrilling read for adults, as well. Filled with photographs and graphic art, Symphony For The City of the Dead recounts the story of one of Leningrad’s greatest native sons, Dmitri Shostakovich.

Through that story, we find out about the Russian Revolution, its revolutionary art movements and Stalin’s repression of those movements. But the most gripping part is the incredible story of survival of the people of Leningrad during one of most vicious military sieges in all of history — and the part Shostakovich’s symphony played in that survival.

MT anderson writes books for kids and adults. His book The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing won the National Book Award and his satirical novel Feed was a  finalist for that award.

Read an excerpt from Symphony For The City of the Dead

Christian Parenti

tropicThe world climate talks are going on in Paris now, two weeks after the terrorist attacks in that city. The response to the attacks has unleashed the full police power of the French state on France’s Muslim population. But climate activists have been targeted, too, for pre-emptive house arrest and the canceling of marches for climate justice. Meanwhile, emissions continue to rise and 2015 has been the hottest year on record —ever.

In 2011, Christian Parenti spoke to Writers Voice about his book on the link between terrorism and climate change, The Tropic of Chaos. It’s uncanny how little has changed since that interview.

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