This elegant text is a strange tribute to Dmitri Shostakovich. The brilliant composer had a fascinating life, convulsed by extreme ideologies. Although the brief book is pessimistic and depressing, it expresses several emotions well.
However, the history covered by the author is a complex one. This means that the reader is not necessarily persuaded by all the Cold War politics on display. The condemnation of George Bernard Shaw jars, while the attack on Pablo Picasso strikes a false note.
The most interesting issue is arguably the lack of attention given to the Siege of Leningrad. This could have been explored in significant depth. What precisely did the great composer think about a hungry orchestra playing a symphony of his? Instead, the reader sometimes has to subsist on a dull diet of clever nationalist phrases:
“To be Russian was to be pessimistic; to be Soviet was to be optimistic. That was why the words Soviet Russia were a contradiction in terms.”