The Conductor, by Sarah Quigley (Vintage, 2011), 303 pp., $39.99.
Sarah Quigley’s fourth novel opens with a small but ominous harbinger. In the spring of 1941, the renowned Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich is informed by his friend, music teacher Ivan Sollertinsky, that two German diplomats have cancelled suit orders with Leningrad’s most reputable tailor. The signal is significant – as the German diplomats are leaving the city and returning to Berlin, it seems that the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 is about to collapse. After it does, in mid-summer 1941, the Germans invade the Soviet Union and lay siege to Leningrad, bringing ghastly privations to the city’s civilian population.