Passages: City of Thieves

From David Benioff's wonderful novel, his second. It's an arresting, funny, heartbreaking story about two young men on a journey through Leningrad during the siege:

Someone inside the old building was playing the piano. I couldn't see any lights through the windows, no candles or lamps burning. The other residents must have gone down to the basement shelter (unless they were too weak from hunger or too old to care), leaving behind this stray genius to play in the darkness, impudent and precise, showing off with thundering double fortissimos immediately followed by fragile little pianissimos, as if he were having an argument with himself, the bullying husband and the meek wife all at once.

Music was an important part of my childhood, on the radio and in the concert halls. My parents were fanatic in their passion; we were a family with no talent for playing but great pride in our listening. I could identify any of Chopin's twenty-seven etudes after hearing a few bars; I knew all of Mahler, from Lieder eines fahrdenden Gesellen to the unfinished Tenth. But the music we heard that night I have never heard before and have never heard since. The notes were muffled by window glass and distance and the unending wind, but the power came through. It was music for wartime.

We stood on the sidewalk, beneath a powerless streetlamp cobwebbed with hoarfrost, the great guns firing to the south, the moon veiled by muslin clouds, listening until the final note. When it ended, something seemed wrong: the performance was too good to go unacknowledged, the performer to skilled to accept no applause. For a long moment we were silent, staring up at the dark windows. Finally, when it seemed respectful to move again, we resumed our march.