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27406560Even though I was born in the Soviet Union myself, I was still very little when Lithuania gained its independence, too little to have my own memories of the horrors which my parents and grandparents spoke about so often. And still, I feel that I’m a product of the legacy of the Soviet years, where the most important rule for survival was not to trust anyone, where everybody had to live double lives, applying logic and common sense only at home, where nobody could see or hear them, and adhering to the communist ideology when in public. There were no famous people in my family, nobody was supposed to cause an unwanted interest by the government, and still my grandparents together with their parents and siblings were deported to Siberia, where they finally met, got married, and where my mother was born before they were allowed to leave ten years after the deportation.
It is not difficult to imagine that nobody wanted to be in the center of interest of the government. Julian Barnes’ “The Noise of Time” follows an internationally famous Soviet composer, Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich, through three difficult moments of his life, each of them 12 years apart. Unfortunately for Shostakovich, writing music that drew attention of the critics and the public, was not compatible with being unnoticed by Stalin. In the first part of the book Shostakovich’s opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk” is visited by Stalin and later prohibited, filling the life of the composer with a constant fair of death, torture or exile. Twelve years later, Shostakovich is chosen to be part of a Soviet delegation to the US, where he is required to represent an ideology that has forbidden his own works, that uses art as a tool of power and control, imposing a purpose on it which it should never have. Another twelve years later, even though Stalin is already dead, nothing is over yet, and Shostakovich, already an elderly man is forced to join the Communist Party he so despises, and is made a Chairman of the Russian Federation Union of Composers.
No historical documents can give us access to what Shostakovich felt through these three devastating experiences and between them. Julian Barnes does an incredible job of filling out this unknown space with his brilliant writing and breathing life into the historical character.
Even though not my favourite book by Barnes, I can really recommend it to those who are interested in learning about the horrors of the Soviet years and the situation of art in the Soviet Union. A great and enlightening read!