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The Lost Pianos of Siberia

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  737 ratings  ·  168 reviews
From acclaimed journalist Sophy Roberts, a journey through one of the harshest landscapes on earth — where music reveals the deep humanity and the rich history of Siberia

Siberia’s story is traditionally one of exiles, penal colonies and unmarked graves. Yet there is another tale to tell.

Dotted throughout this remote land are pianos — grand instruments created during the bo
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published August 4th 2020 by Grove Press (first published February 6th 2020)
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Jun 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lost pianos, who'd have thought?

So OK, I decided to read this purely on the romantic view I had in my head. The title just grabbed me. I envisioned a swathe of wonderful pianos populating Dr Zhivago like scenes, sweeping across vast snowy tracts, the endless Steppes, deep in dark forests, draped in interesting places, hinting at lost pasts. Maybe some one slightly referencing Kate Busch dancing across and around in a Cathy Come Home sort of way.
But this book turned out to be not my dream.
This is
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, history, russia
It’s not often, for me at least, that I finish a book and then could happily open it again to any page and start reading again. This was beautifully, lyrically written, managed to say something new about some already familiar stories and bits of history, and introduced so many other stories and figures and places that were astonishing, heartbreaking, inspiring, and wonderful to learn about. Honestly, the pianos were the least of it. She mentions several times that you start chasing one thing but ...more
Andrew Howdle
Here we are in Siberia. It looks like an abstract painting. Now for some notes on Kandinsky for those who did not know he was an abstract artist. Long digression on Kandinsky with a mention of his connection between music and painting. (A complex subject). Oh, and yes, Kandinsky had a piano too. This book has more loops than Spaghetti Junction and resembes Where's Wally - the reader has to find the word piano amid snowy pages of print. One of the few books I have given up on: life seems too crit ...more
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
This book is an interesting mixture of travel writing, Russian history, and music as the author travels across Siberia ostensibly to locate different pianos -once highly fashionable and popular in Russia - that have now disappeared. Along the way, she gives the history of the regions of Siberia to which she's traveling - some of these areas (notably Yekaterinburg) are very historically significant - and tells the stories of how music (particularly piano music) influenced these regions and Russia ...more
Jun 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A search for pianos in Siberia? This raised eyebrows of visa issuing officials and aroused the skepticism of the FSB. You learn this at the end of the book and realize that adding to the rigors of the climate, the insects and the language gulf was another element of this search requiring bravery.

This is an engaging and wide ranging report.

Each chapter begins with a clear map of Siberia, showing known landmarks and the location to be explored. These geographical chapters are somewhat chronologic
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What a marvellous, marvellous book!!!
It’s a wonderful mix (with perfect balance) of travel, nature, anthropology, history and music(ology). I am not a classic music lover, nor I’m particularly interested in the history of pianos, but there was something about the title that drew me in.
I’ve read some books of the great travel writers that had given this book high ratings. I also (realised later) have read quiet a few books from Roberts’ bibliography that I really enjoyed, so I presumed I’d be “
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

There is something about Siberia that does stir the imagination. The ice, the snow, the tigers – all of the above, you know. Perhaps it is the survival of people who survive in such a place. Roberts book, despite its title is more about Siberia than about pianos. But that is okay.

The book is framed by the idea of quest for a piano, though at times it is very easy to forget that this quest. While the book does discuss the lost pianos, the book details more the inhab
3.5 stars. This wasn't quite what I had been expecting, and I think some of my disappointment stems from that. I was hoping for an exploration of Russian musical history. Roberts admits she is not musical herself and honestly her purpose, to find lost pianos in Siberia, is easy to forget about at times. Although there are a few interesting musical stories, I found Roberts' writing much more engaging when she was writing about nature. As a wildlife journalist, who's original reason for travelling ...more
Siberia is a vast place, in fact, 13 million square kilometres of bitterly cold tundra and has the briefest of summers. It has fifteen mountain ranges but is best known as the place where Russia has banished its people who for whatever reason didn’t fit the current political climate. It is a bleak and uncompromising landscape and has a grim history with what seems like almost countless deaths.

Even though the Soviets tried to eliminate the indigenous peoples some survived and people do choose to
(3.5) RTC.

Roberts is a travel writer whose work has been published in the FT and in Condé Nast Traveler; this is her first book, and takes the form of a quest. On her travels, she has met a world-class pianist in, all of places, the Mongolian steppe, but this musician lacks an instrument equal to her powers. Roberts determines to find her one, and to do so by looking in Siberia, generally known as a land of unforgiving conditions, prison camps, black bread, greasy soup, exile, and misery. But—pa
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
More about Siberia than pianos.
Peter Baran
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction-2020
My perfect non-fiction narrative comes from a place of insatiable curiosity, openness and wonder. A book where-in trying to discover one thing, you end up discovering a multitude. A process via which looking for lost classical pianos in Siberia can only be answered by telling the history of Siberia, and therefore Russia, and also a history of pianos, and musicians in Siberia, and Russo-Japanese/Chinese/US relations and....

So yes, I adored this, despite an initial scepticism about its genesis (th
Jonathan Slaght
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely intoxicating. Such vivid detail, rich atmosphere, and heartbreak. Some cherished and some neglected, these pianos tell of the musical colonization of a continent, and their stories sing.
Heather Bassett
Jun 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of those books that leaves you feeling bereft when you finish it. A surprisingly captivating book, that is beautifully written.
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A heartfelt, contemplative odyssey - rich detail and deeply evocative. Yet it felt somewhat fragmented.
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-travel
I enjoyed reading this book but agree with this review about its “gaping flaw” – in the beginning, the author says she is on the hunt for a piano on behalf of a musician friend who lives in Mongolia, a hop-skip-and-jump from Siberia by local standards. Eventually, she seemingly forgets about the nominal purpose of the journey in favor of just wandering very, very far and wide while contemplating the astonishing cruelty and suffering that is the history of Siberia. However, the book is still ente ...more
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I knew the entire endeavour had been inflected with a measure of madness.~from The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts

I was intrigued. Pianos and Siberia--what a strange combination.

I love piano music. I have played (poorly) since I was eight years old. I love the piano music of Rubinstein and Rachmaninoff. I love Russian composers, from Tchaikovsky to Rimsky-Korsakov to Stravinsky to Prokofiev to Shostakovich.

But--Pianos in Siberia? The far land of exile and punishment for millions known a
May 01, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I saw a new book coming out called “The Lost Pianos of Siberia,” how could I help but be intrigued? I’ve played piano for almost half a century. I love travel and learning about new places. And another piano-themed book, “The Secret Piano: From Mao’s Labor Camps to Bach’s Goldberg Variations,” was a favorite that has stuck with me even years after reading it.

I requested and was happy to receive a NetGalley digital copy. Sophy Roberts, a travel writer, has a pianist friend who is searching f
For fans of the Hare with the Amber Eyes
Feb 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Are you ever surprised by how much you don't know?
Sophy Roberts' adventures in Siberia made me aware of how limited our education can be, how narrow the range of our experiences, how little we sometimes know about the history of lands other than our own, and how parochial is our appreciation of the gifts, talents and culture of the people of our planet who live elsewhere, who exist in ways other than how we do.
Roberts' search to find a piano in Siberia that is worthy of a brilliant young Mongoli
May 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Siberia has the virtue of not startling or astonishing you right away but of pulling you in slowly and reluctantly, as it were, with measured carefulness, and then binding you tightly once you are in. And then it's all over - you are afflicted with Siberia. After malignant anthrax [sibirskaia iazva, literally, 'Siberian ulcer'], which apparently doesn't exist anymore, this is Siberia's most famous disease: for a long time after being in this land a person feels hemmed in, sad, and mournful ever ...more
Nan Williams
May 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
What an interesting travelogue! The author was an English woman who was doing research in Siberia on behalf of a pianist she had befriended.

The book had a wealth of information, some historical, some geological, some political covering about 300 years. It read more like a “stream of consciousness” than anything else. There was little, if any, continuity in the timeline or in the subject matter. Some of the text was in the first person and some in the third.

I quit at about 50%.

The transcription t
Apr 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Sophy Roberts has written a fine, descriptive book about Siberia and its confounding musical fascination. A skilled writer makes reading a joy, especially true for the arts, music, and culture. This nonfictional gem satisfied my curiosity about the history of Siberia. The book has a fair amount of historical information about Russia, as well. The pianos in Siberia were no doubt influenced by composers Franz Liszt of Hungary and Pyotr Tchaikovsky of Russia. I admire the author for her lengthy tra ...more
Sarah Logan
Aug 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Stunning descriptions of remote parts of Siberia and the people who once lived there and who live there now - and, of course, the old pianos searched for and found along the way. People have moved to Siberia for many reasons - often, but not always, involuntarily - and many took pianos with them, as a way to retain their culture, identities and sanity as much as for entertainment. They were transported by trains, trucks, boats, and sleds - and their stories are just as varied and intriguing.
Feb 10, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: russians-2021
I liked the parts about pianos, the travel parts and the people she met were interesting but there’s a fair bit of history some of which didn’t seem entirely relevant but would probably be ok if you don’t know much about Russian history. It did lead me into other books I now want to read.
Jul 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting journey!
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely beautifully written book. I highly recommend it to anybody interested in Siberia.
Alex Tone
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
A gorgeous, bare, fresh-air-to-the-brain kind of book. You'll get more excited about nocturnes, steppes, and piano tuners than you ever imagined possible. ...more
Katy Wheatley
Jan 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was absolutely fascinating. I could easily have read this down in one gulp but I really enjoyed savouring each chapter. Oddly, the musical part of this was the least interesting part for me, although it was not dull. What was fascinating and rewarding was feeling the author falling in love with Siberia with every chapter. Her passion for the country and the people and their stories was so absorbing and I learned so much without having that awful 'school' feeling ever. It made me want to go ...more
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating insight into Siberia, Russian history, human endurance and the hope and comfort that music brings.
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