2015 National Book Award Longlist, Young People's Literature

M.T. Anderson

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad M. T. Anderson, credit: Sonya Sones
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
(Candlewick Press)
ISBN: 978-0763668181

National Book Foundation: In the process of writing your book, what did you discover, what, if anything, surprised you?
Anderson: I discovered a whole new world while writing this book -- which is why it took so many years to finish. On the one hand, I was thrilled to have my eyes opened to so many intoxicating, bizarre Russian experiments in writing, painting, and music, their Futurist games in the theater and on flying machines. On a grimmer note, I had no idea how the Russians see World War II, and how different their experience of the war was from Western Europe's. They talk not about the Second World War, but about the "Great Patriotic War," and it starts for them not in 1939, but in 1941. Around half the total casualties in what we call WWII were Soviet citizens. The death toll in the defense of Leningrad alone was higher than the number of all Americans who've died in all wars fought since the Revolution. Seventy thousand Soviet cities, towns, and villages were wiped completely off the map. We need to understand the depth of that historic sacrifice if we're ever going to understand modern Russia and its people.


In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens—the Leningrad Symphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory. This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds. It is also a look at the power—and layered meaning—of music in beleaguered lives. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a masterwork thrillingly told and impeccably researched.

About the Author

M. T. Anderson is the author of Feed, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, as well as The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume I: The Pox Party, winner of the National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller, and its sequel, The Kingdom on the Waves, which was also a New York Times bestseller. Both volumes were also named Michael L. Printz Honor Books. M. T. Anderson lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


- mt-anderson.com

- Twitter: @_MTAnderson


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Photo credit: Sonya Sones