The Lost Pianos of Siberia

Grove. Aug. 2020. 448p. ISBN 9780802149282. $26. HIST
A journey ignited by a search to bring a piano to Mongolia, this work is history mixed with travelog. Journalist Roberts travels across Siberia, mainly near the trans-Siberian railway, though she also explores isolated towns that contribute to an intimate portrait of a part of the world that has long held the public imagination, though is little understood, and even less visited. Aside from some setbacks, including being detained by border guards, Roberts tracks down numerous pianos, both Russian and foreign-made, and ties the pianos, and Siberia, to Russia’s history from Tsarist times, through the overthrow of the Romanov’s, the USSR, to the present day with the Gulag, the prison camps synonymous with Siberia, playing a central role throughout. The approach each government took toward music provides valuable context on the culture of each era. A background in music or pianos may enhance the journey, though the nonmusical reader will not be intimated or overwhelmed.
VERDICT Tigers, pianos, prisoners, and historical perspective throughout Siberia’s past and present are the heart of this personal account that starts and ends with the search for a piano. While the pianos and their providence are captivating, the history and people stand out.
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