Were you to judge this book by the immensity of its bibliography, you might not bother reading it at all. You would be forgiven for thinking ‘this tome must surely be dry as dust, dense as mdf!’
It was a huge project, involving much fixing, esoteric travel, trains and boats and planes, the FSB, marvellous people, decay, love and great enthusiasms. Academgorodok, which sounds like the secret password in Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water (not inappropriately) is the original Silicon Valley, the home of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and is one of the many peculiar places the author visits in her convoluted journeys to track down pianos which found themselves in Siberia as part of a mad explosion of culture in the 19th century.
Various political shenanigans, murdered royalty, gulags, tensions resulting from proximity to Japan and the USA are all woven into this gripping book. Alaska, the 49th State, was a snip at US $7.2 million!
This is not just a travelogue, nor a list of Joannas, their serial numbers, their makers, their past and present owners and, in many cases, their desuetude. There is warmth, adventure, lyrical writing that is almost poetical at times: a glorious, beguiling undertaking, which I accidentally found on Kindle, but a ‘real’ book would do the tiny old B&W photos more justice. A cracking read.