The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

The Noise of Time

I am kind of ashamed to admit that I had not heard of Dmitri Shostakovich before I read The Noise of Time. As a fan of classical music, I don’t know how I missed on Dmitri Shostakovich, a Russian, who is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century. Dmitri lived during the time of the Soviet Union, and he was under the thumb of Stalin and Khrushchev for most of his life, who did not allow Dmitri to speak for himself. Thus, The Noise of Time serves as Dmitri’s fictional biography.

The Noise of Time is truly an evocative novel. Dmitri and his music were used as political tools that aided the communist propaganda, and Dimitri had to compromise both his integrity and conscience as a result. So one might argue Dmitri was a coward for selling his soul, but for me, he was a survivor. Through Julian Barnes writing, I saw Dmitri as a talented composer who lived in fear for his life and his loved ones, a caring father who stood by the elevator at nights with a packed briefcase in his hands waiting for Stalin’s police to come and take him away without harming his kids, a suffering artist who was forced to publicly denounce other artists he admired. All that, and “the one simple fact about the Soviet Union: that it was impossible to tell the truth here and live,” made Dmitri a very sympathetic character for me.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich (Image credit: gettyimages)

If you are interested in knowing more about the terror of the Stalinist Soviet Union, this is a book that you should not skip. It does not paint pretty pictures and will leave you with a better understanding of what totalitarianism looks like! I’m off to listen to Dimitri’s Fifth Symphony now. But before that, I will share a paragraph from the novel, just to give you a taste if you haven’t already read the book. Enjoy! 🙂

But it was not easy being a coward. Being a hero was much easier than being a coward. To be a hero, you only had to be brave for a moment- when you took out the gun, threw the bomb, pressed the detonator, did away with the tyrant, and with yourself as well. But to be a coward was to embark on a career that lasted a lifetime. You couldn’t ever relax. You had to anticipate the next occasion when you would have to make excuses for yourself, dither, cringe, reacquaint yourself with the taste of rubber boots and the state of your own fallen, abject character. Being a coward required pertinacity, persistence, a refusal to change- which made it, in a way, a kind of courage.


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