Symphony of Our Small World

In high school, hidden in the upstairs of my parents’ barn, I read Russian literature — The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace — I read about life behind the Iron Curtain, Darkness at Noon, Solzhenitsyn.

Late last night, the cats and I read M. T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, a book filled with hunger, fear, and love.

These summery, hot days continue to unfold, a world apart from coal-less winters in Russia. Our days are busy, jammed with my multiple work endeavors, with a daughter in middle school, and soccer practices and games, with her babysitting and my older daughter’s tender young adult life — can I build a tiny house? will I fall in love? — with pickling green beans and putting up salsa and somehow painting the upstairs floors while listening to Rumblestrip podcasts, and swimming at the end of the day as often as possible.

This life, messy with creativity and doubt, with love and grief, is lucky beyond belief. Thank goodness, I remember this at times.

Shostakovich states that at the beginning of the Seventh (Symphony) he depicts the peaceful life before the war in the quiet homes of Leningrad. But to a listener in Iowa it could mean the meadows and the rolling hills around his home. After the fantastic theme of war, Shostakovich has put into his music a lament for the dead — and the tears of a Russian mother and of an American mother are the same.

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By Brett Ann Stanciu

Brett Ann Stanciu lives with her two daughters in Hardwick, Vermont. Her creative nonfiction book, Unstitched: My Journey to Understand Opioid Addiction and How People and Communities Can Heal, will be published by Steerforth Press in September 2021. Her novel about rural life in Vermont, Hidden View, was published in 2015.

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