3.5 out of 5 stars
Siberia is a vast place, in fact, 13 million square kilometres of bitterly cold tundra and has the briefest of summers. It has fifteen mountain ranges but is best known as the place where Russia has banished its people who for whatever reason didn’t fit the current political climate. It is a bleak and uncompromising landscape and has a grim history with what seems like almost countless deaths.
Even though the Soviets tried to eliminate the indigenous peoples some survived and people do choose to live there. Those that were banished to the Gulags never returned home to their home cities and brought some of their cultures with them. Sophy Rogers first came to realise that traces of their culture that they bought with them still existed in homes all over the landscape after a conversation with a talented pianist in a tent in Mongolia who didn’t have an instrument to play.
Until then, it hadn’t crossed her mind that people would have had the time or energy to play music, but it is something that runs deep in the Russian culture. She began looking for these pianos, and treks back and forwards across the continent from Khabarovsk to Sakhalin Island, Kamchatka to the Yamal Peninsula and even into the Siberian part of China
Some of these pianos have been long abandoned other which are still treasured possessions of their owners. The earliest pianos date back to the late 1700s and there are other more recent Russian made examples that she finds. Each of them has a story to tell, some about how they ended up in that part of the world, some about the people that first bought them there and other modern-day stories of their current owners, or perhaps custodians is the right word.
Some of the books that I have read about Siberia have been pretty tough going, one called the Road of Bones, in particular. This book has some of those stories, it has to really, the tragic loss of life permeates the landscape, but this is mostly about the people that tried to bright a little light, life and music to this place. What I liked the most about it was her tracing the stories of the people that made the very best of what they had there and how music can take away from some of the stresses. She has split her search into pre- Soviet, Soviet and post Soviet instruments. Even though it was written as a one-off trip, in actuality, it was a series of trips there and it felt a little disjointed at times.