Sounds of War

by Cindy Chen

Reviewed by SA

I love doing Self Published Saturday! I really do! I get the opportunity to read, and share, books I would not have even known about if it wasn’t for the amazing self published community. It’s when reading books like Sounds of War that you really wish the book was a physical copy rather than an epub, so you can shove it into all of your friends hands. I really did not expect this book to be as beautiful as it was, and everyone needs a chance to read it.

Summary

People were dying. Bodies were lying along the streets. Air raid sirens were about to go off at any moment. Nobody was shown any mercy.

For Anna, life had always been about music. An aspiring pianist and composer, she studied at the renowned Leningrad Conservatoire under some of the greatest musicians to ever walk the face of the Earth. Her studies came to a halt, however, when Nazi troops surrounded Leningrad in September, 1941, intending to shell and starve the city into submission. She watched as her once-beautiful city transformed in front of her eyes: people became living skeletons, their only food being a mere 125 grams of ration bread a day; buildings were reduced to rubble, pieces of bricks and broken glass strewn along the streets; cats, dogs, rats, and horses disappeared as people chose to eat them instead. One by one, the citizens of Leningrad were losing hope, and Anna was desperately trying to find a reason to hold on and a way to continue…

What a fantastically beautiful book.

I’m going to say it right now: I’m not into music. GASP. I listen to it, any kind, but it’s usually just something to keep my mind focused on a project or two. Never did I think I would actually GET it. Somehow, through words, by creating sound out of ink and letters, this novel made me suddenly love music. It made me see how powerful a few notes and cords could be. I was transported to a world of sound and song through a novel about war. The trips to the Conservatoire, the piano playing between friends and family, Anna’s dedication to writing music: these moments truly came alive for me, and managed to resonate like real music would.

All this cuts a sharp contrast with the description of wartime Lenningrad. The beauty of the music clashes with the death and despair on the streets of this city, and as a reader, you truly feel the pain and anguish of life there. It’s terrifying: while the music really is beautiful and warm, the description of life in 1941 makes you feel cold inside.

Chen really has a way with words: from creating music out of thin air, to creating sorrow on the next page, you wonder if you’re even reading a book at all anymore. I devoured this book in a one hour bus ride, and was so enthralled I almost missed my stop. Even when I got off the bus, I had five pages left to read, so I sat down at the stop and finished it. I really was transported to wartime Russia. This book is a real gem. Its subject matter is hard, and at every page you turn and think: “Wow, how can their situation get any worse?” – spoiler alert, somehow it does. The author never seems to exaggerate, creating an environment which felt wholly realistic to me.

Anna herself is a great character: she’s realistic, relatable, and determined. You feel her emotions through the pages, you yearn to reach out a hand and pull her out. But when she plays music, you really feel as if you’re seeing the real Anna. She dwindles when she’s away from an instrument for too long.

The relationship that develops between the protagonist and her best friend is just as realistic as the rest. An atmosphere of “Will they, won’t they” sometimes hung in the air, (or in the pages I should say), and I was so pleased it didn’t go the way or the popular historical fiction (I’m trying so hard not to spoil anything). It’s a friendship I envy, one with mutual respect, a shared passion for music, and with honest conversation.

But yes, this book is painful. It’s set during WWII, after all. if there wasn’t the beauty of music to soften it, I would have lost it – which I think is the point! There is death, loss. Pain. Horror. Moments you wish you could put the book down, if it wasn’t so darn addicting. The ending, however, is perfect, and makes all the pain worth the read.

Make sure you pick up this amazing book!