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Body and Soul

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  3,054 ratings  ·  377 reviews
In the dim light of a basement apartment, six-year-old Claude Rawlings sits at an old white piano, picking out the sounds he has heard on the radio and shutting out the reality of his lonely world.

The setting is 1940s New York, a city that is "long gone, replaced by another city of the same name." Against a backdrop that pulses with sound and rhythm, Body & Soul brilliantl
Paperback, 464 pages
Published June 8th 1998 by Delta (first published January 1st 1993)
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Average rating 4.33  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,054 ratings  ·  377 reviews

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Betsy Robinson
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Reading this evolution of a music prodigy (pianist and eventually a composer) who was born into a seemingly hopeless family situation was an ecstatic experience. The reasons for that are beyond my ability or desire to articulate. But I do want to say that, for some people, this book may be a “magic pill.” There is something healing about reading a story—a fantasy of good luck really—that could so easily be hopeless, turned into something else because of a fantastical parade of good people who ac ...more
✨ Gramy ✨

Body & Soul is a stand alone novel written by Frank Conroy.

This book is about a child prodigy named Claude Rawlings, set in the 1940’s in New York. I was so enchanted with the expressive content of the book that I reread it more than once. Claude’s alcoholic mother left him alone. With no encouragement from his mother, music mentors discovered him and tutored him without charge.


This saga of a son of the working class who grows into a piano prodigy is “hypnotically readable
Aug 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A magnificent novel--a rare portrayal of the redemptive role of music in the life of a troubled child & youth. It's actually a double story of redemption, and--in a rare occurrence in contemporary fiction--a story of redemption that actually focuses on the redemption rather than on what the lives are redeemed FROM. The boy who is the main character is redeemed by music--and by a mentor--from a life of neglect by his single mother, who is herself a very troubled soul. Meanwhile, the mentor--a Hol ...more
Oct 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I guess I can't get enough of beautifully written bildungsromans. I loved the journey this book took me on. It's an old fashioned great read, a big novel with quirky characters, requisite (and wonderful) coincidences, and a sweep of decades. It's a book that takes you through one person's life--a creative genius, a musician. Anyone with a creative fire will appreciate the inner workings of the protagonist's mind.

Favorite quotes:

"It was nothing less than the infinite story of life, and he attende
Jennifer Landrigan
Nov 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This should be required reading. It became a very emotional read once I became fully immersed around halfway. Amazing character development, and the relationship between Claude and his teacher was just touching beyond words. This book will stay with me a long time.
Sep 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1990s, ny-nj-pa, bldnrmn
Reading Conroy's piano prodigy story had many elements I savored, but there was some skimming in the technical piano passages, reducing a potential "A"-five star to a solid "B+"

Body and Soul is a potential re-read, and led me to reread Queen's Gambit.

The Queen's Gambit

11/30/'17 - Beginning a re-read. Here's how it starts:

"His first view of the outside was through the small, fan-shaped window of the basement apartment. He would climb up on the table and spend hours peering through the bars at the
Aug 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful read! This book was reccomended to me by a bookseller from Wellesley Booksmith, a local indi bookstore...I am so grateful. If you enjoy broad sweeping storytelling, Manhattan in the 40s,50s and early 60s, and music this is absolutely the book for you. The story follows the growth and emergence of Claude into a world renowned composer and pianist. His beginning life is fraught with much difficulty and abandonment but through the kindness of others, particularly the ever so kind a ...more
Jun 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
A friend lent me this book, describing it as grotesquely uplifting. The style is very casual and easy to get through, reading like a novel directed towards teens, and does not generally stray into philosophical insight too often. However, I find a great number of the ideas useful, but to what is likely a minority audience. To me, the most important aspects are lessons that Claude Rawlings, the main character, has with his piano teachers. As a pianist, I am intrigued at how these may be applied a ...more
Aug 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I can see why Body and Soul received the BEST BOOK award in 1993 by Publishers Weekly. Its the coming of age story of 6 year old Claude Rawlings. He lives in a basement apartment in NYC with his taxi driver mother. He's home along most of the time and watches the people's feet as they walk by the living room window. He starts playing the piano and that's when this story and his life begin. There are several places where he really "gets into it", his music where only musicians would understand wh ...more
Jan 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I was recommended this book by an employee at Barnes and Noble, and it is the one worthwhile recommendation I've ever received there. I read this book usually twice a year, and bought a second copy because the first copy fell apart from lending it out so much. If I meet someone and find out they are a reader, I immediately tell them to read this book. It is such an involving and uplifting story that any person who can read English will enjoy it, regardless of whether or not you like music. My ma ...more
Apr 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Amazing writer. Conroy is a writer I would read regardless of the story he's telling because his style is so wonderful. He wants to write about a genius musician growing up in the New York of the 1940s? Great. I'm there. He wants to write about walking down the street and catching a bus, I'll be there too. More than a few of the passages from the book had me re-reading them over and over. Claude's story may not have been earth-shattering, but Conroy's technical skills with the written word deliv ...more
Christopher Litsinger
This book remains one of my favorite books. Conroy's ability to describe childhood is dead on, his descriptions of period New York City bring it to life, and the book has a reputation as being one of the finest descriptions of what it is like to be a musician.
I love very nearly everything about the book. Even after reading it many times, I still have to pause and put it down periodically after a particular phrase or passage strikes me.
If the book has a weakness for me, it is in Conroy's inabilit
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful, beautiful book.

Claude is a musical prodigy and is nurtured by some of the best teachers in the world, though he has little understanding of his talent or that he has happened into some remarkable luck. He comes from nothing- his mother is a cab driver and he has no knowledge of who his father might be, and his talent takes him into worlds that wouldn't be accessible to him otherwise. He experiences the world with innocence and learns quickly that his life isn't necessarily lik
Erin Eileen
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"Body and Soul" is the first novel I've read that deftly and eloquently captures music on the page. Not just what it's like to listen to music -- although of course that's in there too -- but what it's like to be inside the music, learning to play it, playing it, mastering it, composing it. Conroy follows Claude Rawlings from young autodidact to superstar piano soloist and budding composer, and along the way draws a beautiful, gritty portrait of New York City in the 40s, London in the 60's and v ...more
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2015
It was a bit like being on a bicycle journey with a slow puncture and arriving with a totally flat tyre. It was the writing style - so dull and lack lustre. It was easy to read but there was no passion.

Here is a satire: Claude I am going to hit you around the head with a baseball bat "Oh right, okay". Then Claude I am going to pull every single one of your fingernails out "You are, and then I will sit down and try to play the piano and will be mildly surprised that it hurts" His life changed for
Mar 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! My test for a good book is that I want to read it quickly and then I don't want it to be over because I will miss it. It passed my test. I miss Claude and his world.

I was given this book by an adult piano student years ago but never was in the right mood for it. I should not have waited so long to read it. You do not have to be a pianist to understand and appreciate the characters but since I am a pianist I could relate to Claude. He is a piano prodigy back in the 1940s in Ne
Mar 24, 2010 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: musical types
i almost finished this but gave up by the last section - just lost interest. The early parts were interesting - about the upbringing and progress of an unlikely child piano prodigy and can see why musicians and music lovers like this novel by a famous Iowa author.
Nina Sankovitch
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: great-books
Reviewed on (and can be viewed on goodreads under my page). A wonderful book about a musician, about America in the mid-twentieth century, about resilience. For music lovers, lovers of musicians, and book lovers.
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The story of Claude, a young boy who becomes the greatest pianist of all times. If you enjoyed "An equal music" by Seth, you won't regret reading this book. ...more
Feb 01, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was a new direction for me. I had never heard of it, but was intrigued when one of my daughters suggested it for our January selection. It took me longer than usual to read it, (it’s 447 pages!) but it was good. I can’t really say that I loved it, but it was good. It is the post-WW II story of Claude Rawlings, a neglected little boy who is locked into his basement apartment while his mom drives a cab all day. The room he sleeps in has an old piano, so he begins playing around with the ...more
Feb 21, 2020 rated it liked it
This was last month’s #mahangirlsbookclub book, and I just finally finished it today. It was crazy slow. Technical. Musical. Sad. Amazing. Fascinating. I needed to finish it, but it really was one I needed to read and take a break and read and take a break. Let’s be clear. The story is really cool. Honestly. It is. The writing is great. Setting. Characters. Loved them all. But, this is not some exciting story filled with twists and turns and action. It is a story of talent. Molded. Breaks given. ...more
This book was recommended to me as a "life changer" by a friend. I thought it started off really well, but lost steam, for me, about 2/3 of the way through. But those beginning oarts, wow!

It's a sort of rags to riches story, with self-awareness and a lot of luck thrown in. The story begins when Claude is six, often left home, while his mother earns her living driving a cab. I loved the view of New York City from ankle level via the window of the basement apartment, where Claude is locked in to b
Jul 04, 2007 rated it liked it
Body & Soul was a rags-to-riches tale, set in the 1940s New York. The protagonist, a gifted piano player, rises to fame starting from an out-of-tune piano in his alcoholic mother's apartment, works his way through several piano teachers (sexually ambiguous, fat and brilliant, a gentle but haunted Jewish man)a socially profitable but unhappy marriage, and finally to his destiny. He was pronounced "changed forever" many times throughout. I thought Conroy did a great job invoking New York in all it ...more
Apr 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
After several friends called and said "This book has your name on it" I was compelled to read what, in my view,
was a total gem.'s a page-turner. Yes...I couldn't put it down from the very first sentence. As the main character is first seen, a lonely boy with an artist's soul.....the reader gets to witness his transformation as a musician, a thinker, and one who struggles against his own sense of existential lonliness as he seeks a sense of identity. Read it if you love music. Read it
Jay Heiselmann
Feb 26, 2008 rated it liked it
Let me first say that I liked this book. It read well, was fun and was pretty true in musical terms(at least to my knowledge) The author painted a good picture of New York in the 40s and the struggles of any artist, musician or other.

I also felt like the book was very predictable. Nothing major ever shocked me. It was almost a diluted version of one of my favorite books, The Fountianhead. Replacing architecture with music and loosing all the tension of a man with his own ideas against the world
Nov 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Wow! I read this long book through within a few days, hardly wanting to put it down. It's a post-WW2 book about a boy born to a very poor family in New York. He has an extraordinary musical gift and is helped along the way by a number of very generous people. From a musical point of view, it's pretty technical. In fact, the music becomes a character in its own right, fully equal to the other characters. I had a stray thought that the main character might be autistic -- or have Asperger's -- he's ...more
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written and researched book, containing detailed descriptions of what goes on in the mind of a musical prodigy as he learns, thinks about, responds to, or plays music. It is also a coming-of-age story, telling about the life of Claude Rawlings from the time he is a very small boy until he is an established adult talent. I found the book very engrossing and gorgeous in detail and desciption. I can't wait to give it to my daughter, who is a pianist also. Highly recommended. ...more
Dec 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book - in fact I read it until 4:00 in the morning. The author was head of the Iowa City Writer's workshop. It's fascinating I think to anyone who likes music and not just someone like me who has studied music. Takes place in Brooklyn and at age 6 is in the apartment alone while his mother drives a cab. His loneliness compels him to explore the piano in his bedroom and that is just the beginning! ...more
Jul 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: jack killen
a good story thus far about the power of passion, in this case for the piano, and especially interesting to those musically inclined. Frank Conroy is a great writer and creates an omnicient sense of the continuity of time past the end of the story. I find myself wondering is happening to Claude now.
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Frank Conroy was an American author, born in New York, New York to an American father and a Danish mother. He published five books, including the highly acclaimed memoir Stop-Time, published in 1967, which ultimately made Conroy a noted figure in the literary world. The book was nominated for the National Book Award.
Conroy graduated from Haverford College, and was director of the influential Iowa

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“La mauvaise musique est jouée tous les jours, la bonne ignorée.” 6 likes
“Musique, nourriture et femmes. Tels sont les grands plaisirs de la vie. Les plaisirs durables. Vous apprendrez cela, jeune moine.
- J'ajouterais les livres, fit Claude, quelque peu embarassé. Vous savez, de bons livres.
- Bien entendu! Vous êtes un amateur de livres! C'est parfait.
- Ils ne vous laissent pas tomber.”
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