This piece originally appeared in Critics at Large December 28. I include on this site because in That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) I wrote briefly in the first of my concluding epilogues about the terrible effects of how the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union affected the Soviet citizens already bludgeoned by the horrors of Stalinism.
|Dmitri Shostakovich in 1941. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis
The first part of this piece – which begins with Bob's review of Sean Michaels' Us Conductors, a novel about Leon Theremin – was published here on Critics at Large on December 14. The piece continues here with a look at Sarah Quigley's 2011 novel, The Conductor.
While Leon Theremin was working in the relative safety of a sharashka (a secret laboratory in the Gulag camp system), the Nazis surrounded Leningrad and cut its links with the outside world. The goal was to erase the city, in Hitler’s words, “from the face of the earth." The epic of the Nazis’ 900-day encirclement was a time of unimaginable horror: air-strikes raining down; bodies, often dismembered, frozen in the snow; neighbour distrusting neighbour; and people feeding on glue, sawdust, leather, dogs and cats, while others resorted to cannibalism. Most people attempted to subsist on less than one slice of purloined bread a day. Hunger alone killed 800,000 people by the time the Germans retreated.
|Conductor Karl Eliasberg (standing, right) in Leningrad in 1942