The Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

Winner of the 2015 National Book Award Longlist, for Young People’s Literature, M.T. Anderson has created a story worth telling.  It is the unfortunate, yet true, biography of Dmitri Shostakovich.  

Growing up in a harsh life as a result of Communist Russian leaders, Shostakovich soon discovered his interest for music.  While his life in the world of the arts was beginning, however, so was the air of terror from Adolf Hitler.  Anderson takes the reader through the cold winters of Leningrad, the warm home of Shostakovich, and of course, the sweet melodies of Dmitri Shostakovich.

I really enjoyed Anderson’s writing style throughout the course of this book.  He told the story of Shostakovich truthfully and full-heartedly.  Anderson must also be a musician himself, as his insight and musical knowledge is vast. I picked up this book, as it was marked new in the Young Adult section, and I was intrigued.  The most interesting topics in nonfiction to me are WWII and music.  I had heard of Shostakovich before reading the biography, but never realized the story behind his masterpiece, Symphony No. 7.  

Anderson brought the reader back in time, into the early 1900s.  Shostakovich, born in 1906, grew up among a family of three children in St. Petersburg, Russia.  As he transitioned from a young scholar enrolled in a music school into a renowned composer, Shostakovich started a family of his own.  However, around him, the people of Leningrad were starving, caused by an unfortunate siege by the Germans.  Their food supply had been bombed.  Their leader had fled.  Citizens were trying to escape the city as fast as possible.  But not Shostakovich.  His pride and honor for the beloved city kept him there, even through the starvation.  Many high-ranking officials tried their hardest to relieve the Shostakovich’s, by bringing them to Moscow.  But, Dmitri insisted on staying in Leningrad to finish his symphony.

 
Later revealed at its debut in Leningrad, Shostakovich had written his masterpiece for the city of his home, the city of the dead.  For young musicians who may want to learn more about some of the greatest composers of the last few centuries, please check this out.  While the book is lengthy, I would recommend it, as it is a 10/10.

Maya S.

The Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

eastofeden_johnsteinbeckI have always been a fan of John Steinbeck’s novels, and his descriptive language and relatable characters never cease to draw me in. At relatively 600 pages, East of Eden certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s not just a book; it’s a complete saga that powerfully chronicles the generations of two families. It isn’t just a retelling of the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel; it’s a story about the capacity of the human soul and heart.

As with many of Steinbeck’s works, East of Eden is set in the beautiful Salinas Valley of California. The plot involves the intertwined destinies of the Trask and Hamilton families, but mainly focuses on the development of Caleb and Aron Trask, from birth to adulthood. Although they are twins, they are complete opposites of each other, in both appearance and personality. Each brother is faced with different obstacles throughout their childhood, but both share the struggle of coming of age and accepting their individuality. Cal and Aron’s journeys to overcome this struggle and embrace their inner selves ultimately depict the strength of love and the human spirit, as well as the power of human beings to break free of their apparent destinies and choose their own paths to follow.

I absolutely love the characters and themes that Steinbeck masterfully conveys , especially through his use of metaphors and allusions. Buried within every page are countless allusions, and finding them is like a treasure hunt, attempting to uncover every single hidden meaning. Even the title is an allusion to the land of Nod, just to the east of the Garden of Eden, where Cain is punished and banished by God. The themes are also endless, but some of the most evident are good versus evil, rejection, whether or not we are our brother’s keeper, and timshel, or free will. Unlike many novels, East of Eden doesn’t focus on a single protagonist; instead, Steinbeck develops multiple complex characters, from the benevolent, virtuous Sam Hamilton, to the ruthless, malicious Cathy, to the insightful, compassionate Lee. Each character is relatable in their own ways and convey how even though we may all be human beings, we all possess different qualities that make us each unique. We may all be our mother and father’s sons and daughters, but what we make of our lives is ultimately determined by only our decisions and our will-power to exemplify timshel.

-Kaylie W., 12th Grade

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

invisibleman_ralphellisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison is an amazing novel that takes you through the experience of being an African American man in Ellison’s day. The theme of invisibility is key throughout the novel. For example, in the beginning of the novel the narrator gets his own electric power for his underground home. The electrical company is confused because they do not know the source of the electricity loss in their company. The narrator is thus invisible to the company but is still getting away with taking electricity for his home. Therefore, we can see that invisibility allows an individual to perform actions that may not be caught, since no one suspects them.

Also shown extensively throughout the novel is the imagery of sight and blindness. For example, Reverend Homer A. Barbee in the novel is blind. Brother Jack gets a glass eye and the narrator is overcome with blindness through many instances in the novel when he is giving a speech and he is blinded by either the thick wall of the white men’s smoke or the stage lights. This novel is a great insight for readers to really witness what types of struggles that African American individuals had to go through in Ralph Ellison’s days. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is a must-read novel for one to be informed about how African Americans felt while living in America.

-Nirmeet B.

Invisible Man is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Public Library and Axis360.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Who’s heard of Of Mice and Men? I don’t mean the band; I’m talking about the famous John Steinbeck book set in the life of the farmers who worked in California in the 1930s.

If you do of who I’m talking about, and also like Of Mice and Men, then you’re in luck. John Steinbeck wrote multiple books about people living in California including one of my personal favorites, Cannery Row.
This book is about the life of the people who lived along the streets of Cannery Row in Monterrey: drunks, a famous doctor, the Chinese man who owns a successful grocery store, even the gopher looking for a mate.
Most of the book talks about how each person goes about their life, but the main story is about a humorous group of men who travel from job to job, their plans to throw the famous doctor a party, and what goes wrong.
Along with a simple, no evil guys, slice of life story, there is comedy and a real life example of how people lived in the 1940s after the war. There are also themes of loners, but there is the lesson that someone is always there to support you.
It’s a little hard to read, but I found this book amazing and encourage you to read it.
-Megan V., 9th grade
Cannery Row is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library