Fusing history, nature writing and travelogue, The Lost Pianos of Siberia is a captivating exploration of an extraordinary and largely unknown part of the world and its unexpected musical legacy.
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, and 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 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. That stately 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.
But this is Siberia, where people can endure the worst of the world — and where music reveals a deep humanity in the last place on earth you would expect to find it.
“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.”
“Courage, patience, erudition and a sympathetic imagination… A travel book of rare quality.”
“An exuberant, eccentric journey through Russian vastness, European history and Russian culture, The Lost Pianos of Siberia is a quixotic quest, a picaresque travel adventure and a strange forgotten story, all wrapped into one fascinating book.”
Simon Sebag-Montefiore, author of CATHERINE THE GREAT and POTEMKIN
“It is an extraordinary encounter with a wildly fascinating and astonishingly ill-known region.”
“A thrilling adventure to the ends of the earth, where sunlight glitters in the snowdrifts and the strains of the exile's song floats through the air. Pack your suitcases for Siberia - Sophy Roberts' gorgeous prose will summon you there like a smell.”
Cal Flyn (author of THICKER THAN WATER)
“Utterly fascinating and revealing to anyone who only knows Siberia through its Great Myth as a forgotten, frozen Nowhere.”
“An impressive exploration of Siberia's terrifying past... Richly absorbing.”
“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)
“A modern-day Freya Stark.”
“What shines through in this book is Roberts' genuine, humane affection for and fascination with the people she meets in Siberia.”
Times Literary Supplement
“Romance and tragedy, gulags and tower blocks, princes and oligarchs and of course tigers and pianos, Roberts captures all the wonder and heartbreak of an entire Empire in one feast of a book.”
Ben Rawlence (author of CITY OF THORNS and RADIO CONGO)
“Marvellous… a masterful example of modern historical travel writing”
“The Lost Pianos of Siberia is one of those magical books that captures the imagination and draws you into the beauty and majesty of Siberia. Idiosyncratic in style – part travelogue, part history, part detective trail – 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
“Utterly absorbing - a wonderful addition to the story of resilience, tragedy and triumph that are the hallmarks of Siberia. Roberts displays an empathy and understanding worthy of this deeply haunted, strangely fascinating land.”
“Fascinating account of Siberia’s horrific legacy told with great verve… Roberts is a wonderfully lyrical writer.”
“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, author of THE PIANO TUNER
“Roberts' writing is beguiling.”
“A richly observed cultural history... thrilling.”
“Beautifully written... A unique short history of Russia from Catherine the Great to Putin... A sense of the extraordinary marks every page.”
“Captures Siberia's wildness, but favours its enchantments.”
Times Literary Supplement
“Roberts achievement is to vividly bring us into a hidden landscape that in an over-travelled world retains its mystique. Through her painterly depiction of the people she encounters, she infuses the epic with the intimate and reveals how sometimes looking is more important than finding”
Sunday Business Times
“Beautifully constructed, clear-eyed and generous-spirited.”
Will Atkins, author of THE MOOR and THE IMMEASURABLE WORLD