The Lost Pianos of Siberiaby Sophy Roberts
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 boom years of the nineteenth century, as well as humble, Soviet-made uprights that found their way into equally modest homes. They tell the story of how, ever since entering Russian culture under the westernizing influence of Catherine the Great, piano music has run through the country like blood.
How these pianos travelled into this snow-bound wilderness in the first place is testament to noble acts of fortitude by governors, adventurers, and exiles. Siberian pianos have accomplished extraordinary feats, from the instrument that Maria Volkonsky, wife of an exiled Decemberist revolutionary, used to spread music east of the Urals, to those that brought reprieve to the Soviet Gulag. That these instruments might still exist in such a hostile landscape is remarkable. That they are still capable of making music in far-flung villages is nothing less than a miracle.
The Lost Pianos of Siberia is largely a story of music in this fascinating place, following Roberts on a three-year adventure as she tracks a number of different instruments to find one whose history is definitively Siberian. Her journey reveals a desolate land inhabited by wild tigers and deeply shaped by its dark history, yet one that is also profoundly beautiful — and peppered with pianos.
“The Lost Pianos of Siberia, Sophy Roberts’s melodious first book, reveals a story inextricably linked to the drama of Russia itself… These pages sing like a symphony.”—Wall Street Journal
“A series of intriguing chats on the human condition with a charming friend excited to share specifics of what she’s experienced and discovered. By page 100, I’d settled in, sipping vodka as I read happily on about piano lore, foul-weather adventures, gossipy history, a cast mainly of hospitable locals, and ultimately, as in the best travel books, glad for the fine company of the author.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Across the vast expanse of Siberia, pianos brought culture and consolation. British journalist Roberts makes an engaging book debut with a chronicle of her travels through Siberia searching for pianos… An absorbing history illuminates a bleak landscape.”—Kirkus Reviews
“In this luminous travelogue, journalist Roberts travels through Siberia looking for historically significant pianos… The book is an eccentric meander, but Roberts’s mix of colorful history, rich reportage, and lyrical prose… makes for a beguiling narrative.”—Publishers Weekly
“A richly absorbing account of Siberia over the last 250 years, as Roberts zigzags her way from the Ural Mountains in the west to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far east.”—Guardian
“An extraordinary encounter with a wildly fascinating and astonishingly ill-known region… This is a wonderful book.”—Sunday Times (UK)
“What shines through in this book is Roberts’ genuine, humane affection for and fascination with the people she meets in Siberia.”—Times Literary Supplement (UK)
“Marvelous… a masterful example of modern historical travel writing.”—Independent (UK)
“The fabled pianos of Roberts’s debut are as much a reason for diversion as they are a fixed end point. The book’s richness is in its tangents.”—Financial Times
“A modern-day Freya Stark.”—Tatler (UK)
“A masterpiece of modern travel literature with words that sing from its pages. A definitive exploration of Russia’s wild east.”—Levison Wood
“This is an amazing journey, the ultimate quest for the oddest objects—pianos—in the most unlikely place—Siberia. But Sophy Roberts makes it much more than that, an elegant and nuanced journey through literature, through history, through music, murder and incarceration and revolution, through snow and ice and remoteness, to discover the human face of Siberia. I loved this book.”—Paul Theroux
“An extraordinary, cadenced journey into music, exile and landscape.”—Edmund de Waal
“A sparkling debut by an outstanding and gifted author. A brilliant guide to Russia of the past and the present, set around an extraordinary search for the heart, soul and lost keyboards of centuries gone by.”—Peter Frankopan
“An exuberant, eccentric journey through Russian vastness, European history and Russian culture… Lost Pianos is a quixotic quest, a picaresque travel adventure and a strange forgotten story all wrapped into this one fascinating book.”—Simon Sebag-Montefiore
“What worlds this book traverses! From gilded recital halls to the haunts of Siberian tigers; from remote penal colonies to volcanic islands in the Bering Sea: I felt as if I had travelled through places I had only dreamed of, following these magical instruments through landscapes and histories so full of tragedy and hope.”—Daniel Mason
“Sophy Roberts’s extraordinary quest demanded courage, patience, erudition and a sympathetic imagination. This original challenge has inspired a travel book of rare quality.”—Dervla Murphy
“One of those magical books that captures the imagination and draws you into the beauty and majesty of Siberia. It is full of wonderful stories about human endurance through adversity and the transformative power of music in the most remote and forgotten outposts of this vast territory. A book to savour and remember.”—Helen Rappaport, author of The Last Days of the Romanovs
“Absolutely intoxicating. Such vivid detail, rich atmosphere, heartbreak, and elegance. Sophy Roberts melds research and personal experience to trace the paths of political prisoners, convicts, and conscripts determined to find beauty in exile, and track down the regal pianos now scattered in villages, museums, and storehouses across the largest country on earth. Some cherished and some neglected, these pianos tell of the musical colonization of a continent, and their stories sing.”—Jonathan C. Slaght, author of Owls of the Eastern Ice