Lost Pianos of Siberia. What an enchanting name for a book! Siberia is one of the (numerous) places I have developed a strange interest in. Despite sharing a border with my home country, I have never been to Russia. I have no direct connections to Siberia, but I like to read and learn about it. Someday I wish to visit the vast, desolate region.
Sophy Robert’s Lost Pianos of Siberia (2020) explores the history of Siberia using pianos and music as case studies. An interesting idea indeed. There are some intriguing stories hidden in between the covers. I learn about terrible events, nice personal stories, and interesting places in Siberia. However, I keep losing the thread.
The chapters are constructed like long chains where one thing links to another, which links to the next, and so on, but things are rarely linked back to the root of the discussion. What is the point of the book? A complete history of Siberia? The map of the musicians who brought their music to taiga? The story of the local people who happen to own an old piano? Any of these would be an interesting read, but all in one is a bit too much.
I have read some good articles written by Sophy Roberts who is a freelance journalist. She writes for several travel magazines and visits rather interesting places. But, for some reason, I find it really hard to engage with the Lost Pianos of Siberia. In fact, the bits of the book that I really enjoy would be great journalistic articles on their own.
“The bird almost struck me with its wing, before it tipped back into the gloom of the Pacific Basin, its wingbeat fading into a part of the world so remote that there have been times when Kurils didn’t even make it on to the map.”Sophy Roberts, Lost Pianos of Siberia
My favorite chapter is the second last chapter where the author voyages to the Commanders and Kuril Islands. It captures (I assume, although I have never been) the remoteness and the strange history of the mostly abandoned settlements. The chapter focuses more on nature and history rather than old pianos, which, despite resolute searching, do not habit the islands. The chapter has little to do with the rest of the book, but it is a solid piece of travel writing that makes me want to jump on a boat and tour Siberian islands.