I'm listening to music from the pop-jazz singer Ethel Waters, and the blues great Bessie Smith as I'm writing. They are two of the creative women featI'm listening to music from the pop-jazz singer Ethel Waters, and the blues great Bessie Smith as I'm writing. They are two of the creative women featured in this book about bohemian New York, 1913-1930. Others were the poet and artist Mina Loy, the avant-garde publishers Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, the poet Edna St Vincent Millay, the wealthy hostesses Mabel Dodge and A'Lelia Walker and their salons, and their artistic friends.
After the Great War, Victorian times were left behind as people grasped new freedoms through artistic pursuits, interesting conversation, and unconventional lifestyles. When Prohibition arrived in 1919, a network of speakeasies with bootleg liquor appeared where people of different social classes mixed. The stock market crash in 1929 ushered in the Great Depression. There were fewer funds for artistic expression and entertainment, and the mood of the country became more conservative.
The author chose women with creative, daring personalities as her subjects so it is a very entertaining book. Many of their friends also had interesting bohemian lifestyles which included sexual freedom. Wonderful black and white photographs showed the glamour of the era. But alcohol, stress, lack of money, and broken relationships led to difficulties in many cases. A book of this size is a great introduction to this passionate group of women in 1920s New York. It might prompt some readers to pick up a biography of one of these women that caught their interest. 3 1/2 stars....more
The Lost Concerto combines suspense, romance, and international political intrigue with a musical thread running through the story. Sofia and her sonThe Lost Concerto combines suspense, romance, and international political intrigue with a musical thread running through the story. Sofia and her son flee from her husband to a convent off the coast of France, but a hired killer follows her. American Maggie O'Shea is grieving the death of her husband, an investigative reporter. She's in a dark place and has given up her career as a classical pianist. A CIA agent brings Maggie a CD and a recent photograph of her first love, a pianist that went missing after an explosion in Beirut thirty years ago. He asks her to come to France to help find Sofia's son and Maggie's first love. As the story unfolds, Maggie finds that Sofia's husband is a wealthy, dangerous man who is much more than a collector of art and rare musical manuscripts.
The wonderful French setting and the musical thread separate this book from a run of the mill mystery. There were a few times when I wondered how the intelligent, independent Maggie could be so reckless, putting both herself and a charming Colonel in terrible danger. At other points in the book, I admired her courage. The book had interesting characters the reader could care about, including the Colonel's three legged dog that had been injured in the Mideast. The story had themes of courage, grief, revenge, coping with disabilities, and the power of music....more
When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, they quickly headed for Leningrad and cut off the supply routes into the city. The only wayWhen the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, they quickly headed for Leningrad and cut off the supply routes into the city. The only way food and other supplies could be brought into Leningrad was to use boats to cross Lake Ladoga. When the weather turned frigid, they switched to trucking supplies across the ice, hoping the ice would hold. People were eating tree bark, sawdust, leather, cats, dogs, rats, and some even resorted to cannibalism during the long winter.
The Russian people also had to contend with the NKVD, the secret police, who arrested, tortured, and killed people on trumped up charges. Stalin was so paranoid that he had his most experienced officers shot by the NKVD which made the military position even more precarious against the more experienced Germans. Stalin, who came from a humble background, was especially harsh on the more cultured citizens of Leningrad. The composer Dmitri Shostakovich was always very nervous that he would be brought in for questioning by the NKVD if Stalin disapproved of his music.
Shostakovich and his family were evacuated from Leningrad in the autumn of 1941, and he finished his Seventh Symphony, dedicating it to the city of Leningrad. Although it was performed in several other cities first, the performance in Leningrad on August 9, 1942 was the most unforgettable. Since most of the musicians in the city had been either evacuated or died from hunger, it was difficult to put together an orchestra of over 100 musicians to play the 80 minute symphony. The brass and the woodwinds were too weak to blow their instruments without fainting, and the strings were exhausted from holding their violins. Extra food rations were given to them so the skeletal musicians managed to play. The Seventh Symphony announced to the world that Leningrad would endure. It also showed what joy and hope that music can bring under the most tragic of circumstances.
The book also tells of the difficult winter faced by the soldiers of both sides since they had inadequate food, clothes, fuel, and supplies. In January 1943 the siege of Leningrad was broken, although the city was not entirely liberated until 1944.
The author includes an enormous amount of detail as he covers the time from June 1941 to August 1942. This gave a good sense of what the people of Leningrad and the soldiers had to endure. It probably could have been edited down a bit since some of the stories were repetitious. The strength of this moving account of the siege of Leningrad is that the history is approached from many different angles....more
Richard Powers has written an engaging story about an aging avant-garde musician on the run from the authorities. Modern science and technology combinRichard Powers has written an engaging story about an aging avant-garde musician on the run from the authorities. Modern science and technology combine with the soaring beauty of music and art in this remarkable book.
Peter Els calls 911 when his dog dies, and the police officers notice he has a room full of lab equipment that he bought online. Els is attempting to insert a sequence of musical patterns into the DNA of a common bacteria that thrives around water sources, Serratia marcescens. A few days later when Els returns to his house after jogging, he sees a biohazard team from the Joint Security Task Force confiscating his lab. Fearing arrest, Els drives on by and finds he's already being called a dangerous bioterrorist by the media.
The book moves forward as Els travels west visiting meaningful places, and making peace with the people he loved the most in his life (like the journey of the musical Orpheus from Greek mythology.) At the same time, flashbacks give us the story of Peter's life as a child through his adult years as a composer and a professor. The book is not divided into chapters, but the parts are separated by Tweet-length epigraphs.
Powers has written some beautiful poetic prose as he describes Els listening to pieces of music that had deep meaning in his life. Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," which was written and performed for the first time in a Nazi POW camp, was especially unforgettable. His descriptions of the voices of Steve Reich's "Proverb" was absolutely gorgeous, and sent me to you.tube to listen to the music. Even the picture of Els listening to a bird chirping in a tree made me smile.
This was a moving story about the life of a man with the gift of special musical abilities. For years Els put his musical compositions ahead of his personal relationships, so his trip was a journey of redemption. "Orfeo" is especially recommended for those that love music and literary fiction....more
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir are sent to an isolated monastery in the woods of Quebec, accessible only by boat. TheChief Inspector Armand Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir are sent to an isolated monastery in the woods of Quebec, accessible only by boat. The choirmaster was murdered--and the culprit could only be one of the monks in this walled, locked building. The cloistered monks of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups lived a simple life whose days were devoted to communing with God through Gregorian chants. The monks made a recording of the chants to raise money to repair the monastery, but that divided the monks into two camps with some wanting isolation and others wanting to record more. The unusual setting and discussion of the history of Gregorian chants provided added interest to the book.
Both Gamache and Beauvoir are complicated men, so this mystery has added emotional depth because of their talents and demons. Gamache gives us moments of poetry, and Beauvoir provides some irreverant levity as they follow the monks into what seems like an endless cycle of praying and chanting to Beauvoir. There is also a dark side as they are recovering from some past traumatic events. Gamache's boss seems to be the devil himself in a second plot line. This book held my interest, and I'm looking foreward to reading more in this series....more
The narrator of this novel meets Alexei Berg in a train station in the Urals. He is told the story of the last twenty years of Alexei's life as the twThe narrator of this novel meets Alexei Berg in a train station in the Urals. He is told the story of the last twenty years of Alexei's life as the two men travel by train to Moscow. Alexei Berg's parents, a dramatist and an opera singer, were arrested during Stalin's reign of terror in 1941. Alexei, a classical pianist student, avoided arrest and made his way to the Ukraine, close to the Polish border, where he had relatives hide him. When the Germans invaded the Ukraine, Alexei took on the identity of one of the dead soldiers in the Soviet army. This is the story of how Alexei survived in a hard world, very far from classical music. The book is a beautifully written little gem. The author, who grew up in Russia, emigrated to France and writes his novels in French. ...more
This is a very creative book which is a little challenging to read unless you know what to expect. Jennifer Egan wrote this book as separately publishThis is a very creative book which is a little challenging to read unless you know what to expect. Jennifer Egan wrote this book as separately published short stories, done in different styles, which are interlocking. The chapters move back and forth in time. There are major characters that show up in many of the chapters, and minor ones that are featured in only a couple chapters. I made quick notes about each character as I finished a chapter, in case I needed to refer back to when I had encountered them first.
Jennifer Egan compared this book to "the great storytelling albums that she grew up with in the 1970s: The Who's 'Tommy', Pink Floyd's 'The Wall', David Bowie's 'Ziggy Stardust'. A concept album is a story told in parts that sound completely different from each other...yet also work together."
One character says, "Time is a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?" All the characters are pushed around by time in the book as the chapters take you back and forth through fifty years. People connect and disconnect at different times of their lives, always changing as they move on. Many of the characters are rebelling, have serious problems in their interpersonal relationships, suffer from substance abuse, and are fighting depression. But there are moments when they recover and grow, and the next generation seems to have their lives more together. As they go through time, interpersonal communication changes as we get more into the digital age in the 2020s. Music also changes from the accoustic sound of a band of high schoolers in the 1970s to a sound that is very digitalized and professionally mixed in a studio.
Chapters of the book are written from various points of view in first person, third person, and even second person. One chapter is written from prison, and another is done in Power Point. There is a lot of texting in the most modern chapter.
This book takes some effort on the part of the reader. While I would not want a constant diet of very modern books, I enjoyed reading this book because it was so creative and different....more
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall is a group of five short stories that have music and nightfall as common themes. Some of the stories inNocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall is a group of five short stories that have music and nightfall as common themes. Some of the stories involve musicians who are longing for success in their careers or trying to make a comeback. Others involve special songs that figure into the plot. Relationship problems are also present, often with a twist.
The stories will leave the reader thinking about the emotional experiences of the characters and smiling at the bits of humor in some of the situations. I'll look for more by this author....more
In 1992, twenty-two people were killed by mortar shells as they stood in a bread line in a town square during the Siege of Sarajevo. In honor of the dIn 1992, twenty-two people were killed by mortar shells as they stood in a bread line in a town square during the Siege of Sarajevo. In honor of the deceased, a local cellist who had witnessed the attack played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor at the site daily for twenty-two days. It is a bit of beauty at a scene of devastation. This fictional book is inspired by this true event in Sarajevo.
The book also tells the stories of three other characters trying to survive the devastation. Sarajevo is surrounded by hills, and the Serb soldiers shell the homes below, and target the civilians as they move through the city. Every four days, Kenan risks his life trying to cross the bridges to fill containers with spring water for his family and an elderly neighbor. Dragan must travel dangerous roads to get to the bakery to work and bring bread home to feed his sister's family. Both men were witnesses to the deaths of others who got picked off by the soldiers. Arrow, a female expert sniper from Sarajevo, has the task of protecting the cellist from an enemy sniper attack. She is trying to hold on to her human goodness while defending her city.
This moving story shows the senselessness of war, and the effect that violence, fear, and destruction has on each of the characters. "The Cellist of Sarajevo" is the third novel of Steven Galloway, a Canadian author from British Columbia....more