The Lost Pianos of Siberia
Siberia’s story is traditionally one of exiles, penal colonies and unmarked graves. Yet there is another tale to tell.Dotted throughout this remote land are pianos – grand instruments created during the boom years of the nineteenth century, and humble, Soviet-made uprights that found their way into equally modest homes. They tell the story of how, ever since entering Russian culture under the influence of Catherine the Great, piano music has run through the country like blood.How these pianos travelled into this snow-bound wilderness in the first place is testament to noble acts of fortitude by governors, adventurers and exiles. That stately instruments might still exist in such a hostile landscape is remarkable. That they are still capable of making music in far-flung villages is nothing less than a miracle.But this is Siberia, where people can endure the worst of the world — and where music reveals a deep humanity in the last place on earth you would expect to find it.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia Details

TitleThe Lost Pianos of Siberia
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 6th, 2020
PublisherDoubleday
ISBN-139780857524942
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Travel, History, Cultural, Russia, Music

The Lost Pianos of Siberia Review

  • Christine
    January 1, 1970
    Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley There is something about Siberia that does stir the imagination. The ice, the snow, the tigers – all of the above, you know. Perhaps it is the survival of people who survive in such a place. Roberts book, despite its title is more about Siberia than about pianos. But that is okay. The book is framed by the idea of quest for a piano, though at times it is very easy to forget that this quest. While the book does discuss the lost pianos, the book details more the Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley There is something about Siberia that does stir the imagination. The ice, the snow, the tigers – all of the above, you know. Perhaps it is the survival of people who survive in such a place. Roberts book, despite its title is more about Siberia than about pianos. But that is okay. The book is framed by the idea of quest for a piano, though at times it is very easy to forget that this quest. While the book does discuss the lost pianos, the book details more the inhabitants and prisoners of the land. Roberts travels around Siberia include not only a hunt to view the famous tigers but also a visit to the location of the death of the Romanovs. The writing is more powerful when she is dealing with nature. The chapter about the tigers, for instance, contains some of the most beautiful writing about the big cats. When the pianos come back in, strangely the book seems to lag a bit. But there is something engaging about Roberts style nonetheless. The joy of her trek and travel infuses the book and it is impossible not to get caught up in the excitement and joy. Perhaps because she finally has achieved a trip to Siberia (and perhaps this is why the request feels secondary). It was a good read.
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  • Eleanor
    January 1, 1970
    (3.5) RTC.Roberts is a travel writer whose work has been published in the FT and in Condé Nast Traveler; this is her first book, and takes the form of a quest. On her travels, she has met a world-class pianist in, all of places, the Mongolian steppe, but this musician lacks an instrument equal to her powers. Roberts determines to find her one, and to do so by looking in Siberia, generally known as a land of unforgiving conditions, prison camps, black bread, greasy soup, exile, and misery. But— (3.5) RTC.Roberts is a travel writer whose work has been published in the FT and in Condé Nast Traveler; this is her first book, and takes the form of a quest. On her travels, she has met a world-class pianist in, all of places, the Mongolian steppe, but this musician lacks an instrument equal to her powers. Roberts determines to find her one, and to do so by looking in Siberia, generally known as a land of unforgiving conditions, prison camps, black bread, greasy soup, exile, and misery. But—partly indeed because of the Tsarist, and later the Soviet, exile system—it also contains a surprising amount of culture, left over from times when highly educated and accomplished men and women were sent to the steppe for life. There are many pianos in Siberia. There are concert halls; there are opera houses; there is a ballet company. There are pianos brought for virtuosi to play and abandoned after one or two performances; there are pianos shipped overland by the determined wives of commissars and high-ranking Decembrist exiles; there are pianos in sitting rooms and music schools, played by children and old people and students and housewives. Siberia, it turns out, is intensely musical. There is great charm in Roberts’s descriptions of the landscape, the people, and the history. I personally tend to struggle with books of this nature because their composition seems so patently artificial: there’s a note right at the start of the text to inform us that Roberts has conflated and combined details of three long research trips to make her narrative, and while I understand why a writer might do that, something about it makes me automatically wary of all the detail that comes after. She also hasn’t quite managed to integrate herself into the text in a way that feels…how shall I put this? Generous? It’s hard to describe, but every time Roberts mentions her own reactions to something, you get the sense that the piano hunt is a proxy; what she wants, really, is an excuse to find Siberia. But there is never any acknowledgment of this, even though leads on pianos sometimes disappear for pages at a time. Hard to sum up, then, this book, though it’s also hard not to fall under its spell.
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  • Jonathan Slaght
    January 1, 1970
    Absolutely intoxicating. Such vivid detail, rich atmosphere, and heartbreak. Some cherished and some neglected, these pianos tell of the musical colonization of a continent, and their stories sing.
  • Leo
    January 1, 1970
    For fans of the Hare with the Amber Eyes
  • Ian Smith
    January 1, 1970
    THE LOST PIANOS OF SIBERIA by Sophy Roberts Review by Ian SmithWhat could this book really be about I wondered. Surprisingly, it’s about the lost pianos of Siberia BUT, if you think it wouldn’t interest you, think again.There are things I’ve learnt about Sophy reading this work – (a) She’s an accomplished pianist, (b) She is seriously interested in historic pianos, (c) She is a much researched historian (there are 80 pages of bibliography and such at the back) (d) She has a wonderful turn of THE LOST PIANOS OF SIBERIA by Sophy Roberts Review by Ian SmithWhat could this book really be about I wondered. Surprisingly, it’s about the lost pianos of Siberia BUT, if you think it wouldn’t interest you, think again.There are things I’ve learnt about Sophy reading this work – (a) She’s an accomplished pianist, (b) She is seriously interested in historic pianos, (c) She is a much researched historian (there are 80 pages of bibliography and such at the back) (d) She has a wonderful turn of phrase. Combine all these and you’ll come up with a book that is both informative and well written. What really gets to you is Siberia or, more succinctly, its people and history.The horrors that have occurred here at the whim of despotic rulers are unimaginable to the average mind. Imagine, if at all possible, being chained to a wheelbarrow for 24 hours a day, every day, until you die. I still have head-shaking thoughts about that days after I’ve read about it. And that’s just one example of the incredible stories of Siberia unearthed but, as someone remarked, “music is the refuge for the displaced” and therein lies the tie that binds this book.Sophy goes to towns you’ve never heard of – try Kiakhta, Magadan, Salekhard and Akademgordok – and hears or learns about incredible people and the stories of their lives. Who knows about the Commander and Kuril Islands? Sophy does, because she’s been there, in one instance with a group of serious bird watchers. Were you aware that the bar-tailed godwit travels 7 ½ thousand miles in nine days? Did you know that the Japanese strike force sailed from Iturup to launch its attack on Pearl Harbour?One piano came to Kamchatka from St. Petersburg, delivered by a grateful naval commander. The route was south through the Atlantic then north from Cape Horn across the Pacific. It took over 8 months. Others are delivered overland on sleds through a metre or two of snow. As you learn, pianos that reach Siberia mostly have amazing journeys and history. You also learn that it’s hard to keep a piano in tune in the harsh weather conditions, cold like Australians can only fantasise about.Once a famed pianist decided to tour Siberia; not with advance notifications as you might expect. No, he simply turned up, notices were placed and the concerts were usually booked out in less than an hour. So unlike today’s rock stars..It’s the personal stories that grip you and move this book along. Many are outside the realm of what you might consider possible but in Siberia, humans are taken to the edge.What happened in the gulags, first under the tsars and later under Stalin, are heart wrenching stories of human misery that, fortunately, some survived and were able to record and the snippets included here are insightful.The emotion charged epilogue is a fine way to finish the book, giving some insight into just how difficult Russian authorities are to deal with, yet how passionate some of the populous are.My only whinge with this book are the footnotes. I’ve always felt that, if something is worth putting on the page, then it’s worth putting in the script without disrupting the flow. Other than that, a fascinating and revealing read.
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  • Sarah Simms
    January 1, 1970
    Generally I only read travel literature if I’m journeying there and want to know more about the history or culture that I might have missed. I’ve never been to Russia - nor have any particular plans to head Siberia-wards. But I heard Sophy speak about her book and was compelled to buy it. Now I feel almost evangelistic about it - it is extraordinary. The depth of her research, the beauty with which she conjures images of her travels and people she meets, the way in which she amalgamates her Generally I only read travel literature if I’m journeying there and want to know more about the history or culture that I might have missed. I’ve never been to Russia - nor have any particular plans to head Siberia-wards. But I heard Sophy speak about her book and was compelled to buy it. Now I feel almost evangelistic about it - it is extraordinary. The depth of her research, the beauty with which she conjures images of her travels and people she meets, the way in which she amalgamates her piano search - it is all truly incredible. Please read this. It feels apt to have finished this book on International Women’s Day. What an inspiration.
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  • Kate
    January 1, 1970
    Recommended by 5books.com editor 2019 picks
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