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Body and Soul

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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 brilliantly evokes the life of a child prodigy whose musical genius pulls him out of squalor and into the drawing rooms of the rich and a gilt-edged marriage.

But the same talent that transforms him also hurtles Claude into a lonely world of obsession and relentless ambition. From Carnegie Hall to the smoky jazz clubs of London, Body & Soul burns with passion and truth--at once a riveting, compulsive read and a breathtaking glimpse into a boy's heart and an artist's soul.

464 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1993

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About the author

Frank Conroy

19 books60 followers
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 Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa for 18 years, from 1987 until 2005, where he was also F. Wendell Miller Professor. He was previously the director of the literature program at the National Endowment for the Arts from 1982–1987.
Conroy's published works included: the moving memoir Stop-Time; a collection of short stories, Midair; a novel, Body and Soul, which is regarded as one of the finest evocations of the experience of being a musician; a collection of essays and commentaries, Dogs Bark, but the Caravan Rolls On: Observations Then and Now; and a travelogue, Time and Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket. His fiction and non-fiction appeared in such journals as The New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, Harper's Magazine and Partisan Review. He was named a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government.
In addition to writing, Conroy was an accomplished jazz pianist, winning a Grammy Award in 1986. His book Dogs Bark, But the Caravan Rolls On: Observations Then and Now includes articles that describe jamming with Charles Mingus and with Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. The latter session occurred when Conroy was writing about the Rolling Stones for Esquire. Conroy had arrived at a mansion for the interview, found nobody there, and eventually sat down at a grand piano and began to play. Someone wandered in, sat down at the drums, and joined in with accomplished jazz drumming; then a fine jazz bassist joined in. They turned out to be Watts and Wyman, whom Conroy did not recognize until they introduced themselves after the session.
Conroy died of colon cancer on April 6, 2005, in Iowa City, Iowa, at the age of 69.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Co...

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 460 reviews
Profile Image for Betsy Robinson.
Author 9 books1,020 followers
May 9, 2016
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 actually see a child and intervene for his well-being. This is not to negate the problems of this child-turned-man living two almost opposite experiences of non-nurturance and nurturance. These problems are exquisitely nuanced, played out in the second half (or, more accurately, “movement”) of the book, with a third movement that steps into heaven.

The word “concerto,” Conroy writes, has a double meaning: “to join together, to work in concert, but also, from the Latin, to fight or to contend.” (389) So this book is a magnificent concerto, in all its complexity. A musician’s life told as a concerto.

I have never played piano. I was probably the worst second violin player in the history of my high school orchestra because I never practiced. I’m not a musician and probably have forgotten how to read music. But every detail of this story felt personal to me and mine. How can that be? I don’t know. It just is. Like great music.
Profile Image for Marvin.
1,886 reviews56 followers
August 19, 2009
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 Holocaust survivor--is himself redeemed by his care for the boy. Despite the negative elements evident in this summary of the story, they actually play a relatively minor role in the development of the plot compared to the uplifting developments that constantly unfolded without leaving one with the feeling that this was a melodramatic rags-to-riches story (as, in fact, it was, in some ways). Being conditioned by such fine contemporary fiction as A Thousand Acres, I kept waiting for the tragic flaw to doom the main character (and begging--literally & out loud) for it not to, and although it came close once, it never did.
Profile Image for ✨ Gramy ✨ .
1,382 reviews
November 29, 2019

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 . . . The best story I know of in a long, long time” (Vanity Fair).

As a boy, Claude Rawlings looks up through the grated window of his basement apartment to watch the world go by. Poor, lonely, supported by a taxi-driver mother whose eccentricities spin more and more out of control, he faces the terrible task of growing up on the margins of life, destined to be a spectator of that great world always hurrying out of reach. But there is an out-of-tune piano in the small apartment, and in unlocking the secrets of its keys, as if by magic, Claude discovers himself. He is a musical prodigy.

Body & Soul is the story of a young man whose life is transformed by a gift. The gift is not without price—the work is relentless, the teachers exacting—but the reward is a journey that takes him to the drawing rooms of the rich and powerful, private schools, a gilt-edged marriage, and Carnegie Hall. Claude moves through this life as if he were playing a difficult composition, swept up in its drama and tension, surprised by its grace notes. Music, here, becomes a character in its own right, equaled in strength only by the music of Frank Conroy’s own unmistakable and true voice.

Bristling with character and invention, Body & Soul is Dickensian in its range and richness. This is a novel with all the emotional appeal and moral gravity of a classic bildungsroman, but with a tone as contemporary as a jazz riff—an unforgettable achievement by one of the great writers of our time.

Claude's musical abilities and ambition lead to him playing piano at a very young age, mastering multiple piano techniques and composing. His talent was presumably passed down from a birth father he never knew. He spent hours each day engrossed in practicing with intent in order to achieve all his goals.

This novel is a clean, historical coming-of-age saga based on a extraordinary musician. This compelling drama was a most entertaining narrative.

I was enthralled with this book and would recommend it!


Body & Soul: A Novel Kindle Edition
by Frank Conroy (Author)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st edition
Published: (September 29, 1993)

Profile Image for Rachael.
587 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2011
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 and loving Mr. Weisel, his talent is recognized and so begins his journey. As a reader you are completely immersed in Claude's love of music-the passages when he plays piano are amazing. The story flows effortlessly, and surrounds itself with wonderful loving characters that recognize his gift and nourish Claude in some way. Even the characters that are flawed themselves bring a needed depth and richness to the story.
Profile Image for Kate.
Author 8 books216 followers
October 10, 2015
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 attended."

"Anything you can imagine clearly, you can play. That's the great secret."

"Forget about authentification. When it comes to writing music, all you can do is sign on for a way of life, and do the work. Do the work for its own sake."
Profile Image for Jennifer Landrigan.
9 reviews1 follower
January 4, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Chrisl.
607 reviews87 followers
December 2, 2017
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 legs and feet of people passing by on the sidewalk, his child's mind falling still in contemplation of the ever-changing rhythms and tempos of legs and feet moving across his field of vision. An old woman with thin calves, a kid in sneakers, men in wingtips, women in high heels, the shiny brown shoes of soldiers. If anyone paused he could see detail -- straps, eyelets, a worn heel, or cracked leather with the sock showing through -- but it was the movement that he liked, the passing parade of color and motion. No thoughts in his head as he stood or knelt at the window, but rather, from the images of motion, a pure impression of purposefulness. Something was going on outside. People were going places. Often, as he turned away from the window, he would muse on dimly sensed concepts of direction, volition, change, and the existence of the unseen. He was six years old, and much of his thinking, especially when he was alone, went on without words, went on beneath level of language.

"The apartment was small and dark, and he was locked inside until that terrific moment each day when his mother came home with her taxicab. He understood about the cab. There were passengers. She picked them up in the street and took them from one place to another (as the people walking outside were going from one place to another), but she herself had no destination. She went where the passengers told her to go, and remained, in a sense, a witness, like himself. The cab started out in front of the apartment in the morning and returned at night. It appeared to him to be going around in circles.

"Usually he would hear her coming down the iron stairs to the door. She was big, and moved slowly, the entire iron structure clanging with each step. Then a moment's silence, the sound of the key opening the locks, and the door would swing open. In the dimness he could see her shift her six-foot-tall, three-hundred-pound body to come through. He could hear the sound of her breathing, a steady, laborious sighing, as she entered the room.

"'Claude!' Her voice was clear and musical.

"He stepped into her field of vision.

"'There you are,' she said. 'Get me some beer.'" ...

"Claude sat down on the floor. He was attentive to her mood, to its direction, in case escape was necessary. Sometimes when he ran around the couch or slipped under her arm she would lose interest. He knew that almost always when she hit him, she held back. He'd seen her open the door once to find a drunk pissing in the small area at the foot of the iron stairs. She'd felled the man with one blow to his chest, methodically kicking his ass and then his head until he lost consciousness, and then pulled him slowly up the stairs by his collar, step by step, to the street. There had been blood on the stairs, red spots on the black." ...

"He slept on an army-surplus cot in the back room, which was filled with boxes of old trip cards (to be retained for two years by order of the taxi commissioner), stacks of newspapers, old suitcases, a set of spare tires, boxes of motor oil, a steamer truck, bookcases, racks of her old clothes, and up against the back wall, half buried under piles of books and sheet music, a small, white console piano with sixty-six keys ...

"In the morning she let him out, with twenty-five cents, to go to the corner for a quart of milk and two hard rolls." ...

"Most of the day he spent in the back room at the piano, making sounds and listening to them." ...

"At dusk he climbed up on the table in the front room and stared out the fan-shaped window, watching the people go by. When his mother came home she told him that, pretty soon, he'd be going to school.

"'Is it outside?' he asked, gesturing to the window."


Here's another of the many scenes with which I identified, appreciated. In the background Emma, Claude's complicated mother has become a person of interest to the FBI, due to her involvement with communists in the Red Scare days following WWII.

p68 - "The boys and girls around him were fidgeting, talking, moving around, exchanging seats, giggling, sending somebody back for candy, whistling in their impatience for the show to begin. The matron would flash her light over the section when things got too noisy and the kids would immediately quiet down. Claude watched them with a certain detachment. He was no longer afraid of them, as he had been when he'd started school. They were, he realized, just kids, but there was something about them -- their easy spontaneity, their recklessness, their almost manic self-absorption, the way in which they seemed completely taken up in the present moment -- that made him uneasy. He did not for an instant think of himself as one of them. He sat with them only because the rules forced him to. In an odd way he felt like an imposter.

"There was a tremendous burst of music as light streamed from the distant projection box. On the theater curtains a highly distorted image of the American flag appeared -- pulled, rolled, squashed, smeared, ballooned, and edgeless in the thick folds. As the curtains parted the image grew from the center out, crisp, bright, and perfectly focused. Old Glory against the sky. Everyone stood and sang the national anthem, following the bouncing ball at the foot of the screen. Claude found a peculiar fascination in the bouncing ball. It seemed a persona, jumping deftly from syllable to syllable. The music was loud and satisfying.

"Cartoons! Followed by a newsreel, the narrator's voice both urgent and important, sounding over the flash of images. And then the first feature, about a tough sailor who marries a librarian but doesn't take life seriously until they have a baby. The second feature described the adventures of a boy who could talk to horses. Claude watched them all with total attention, so captivated that it was a shock when the movies ended, as if his soul had been flying around in the dark and had now slammed back into his body. Outside, the unnaturally still street and the implacable heat seemed to claim him, to smother the quicksilver emotions of the films and flatten him in his contemplation of the meaningless, eternal, disinterested reality of the street, of its enduring drabness and familiarity. To come out of the RKO was to come down, and he rushed home to the safety and company of the piano.

"But on that hot day he had discovered, by accident, staring up at the ethereal brightness of the screen, a force that would gently press its weightless light upon him through the years of his growth, becoming finally a part of him, as if he carried the memories of a thousand lives he had never led, of lives, indeed, no one had ever led, but which seemed nonetheless real."
Profile Image for Richard Thompson.
1,759 reviews87 followers
October 16, 2022
The title was familiar, but the films and songs that share the same title are not directly connected to this book. This book provides a unique perspective on the life of a brilliant musician, with an intense psychological portrait that takes the reader inside of the musician's mind and opens up his process and connections with his music in ways that I have not encountered in a previous book. Last night I went to a chamber orchestra concert and could not help taking in the feel, shape and emotional resonance of the music from as close to the perspective of Claude Rawlings as a non-musician like myself could manage. Interestingly, part of Claude's character is his inability to articulate his connection to his music in the way that Mr. Conroy does so brilliantly for the reader. To other characters in the book, Claude sometimes seems cold or lacking in understanding of his own genius. In fact, he has the deepest possible understanding, but his words fail him so that he can only express it through the music itself. The only people in the book who are able to appreciate this are the other top-flight musicians who have achieved comparable levels of mastery. The audiences, the less talented musicians, Claude's social acquaintances, and even his wife are unable to gain entrance into the workings of Claude's talent in the way that Mr. Conroy opens up for the reader. While I don't claim for myself the level of mastery of any field that Claude has over his music, Mr. Conroy's descriptions of Claude's moments of discovery and revelation, moments of finding surprising connections, hitting and overcoming walls against progress, and times when Claude experiences the flow of his work resonated with my own experiences in fields where I have managed to achieve some degree of mastery.

I enjoyed how Claude manages to remain a quiet and unassuming person from start to finish. He is able to accept the adulation that he sometimes receives, but not let it go to his head. In his dealings with the people around him, he remains kind and loving, never taking on an air of superiority or expecting others to defer to his needs as a genius, and never indulging in excess, though he is given ample opportunity to do so. As Fredericks points out to him at one point, he lives a charmed life, getting one lucky break after another paving his way to a career in art that few people, regardless of talent and ambition, are able to enjoy, but he always seems to appreciate this and not to approach his luck with a sense of entitlement. It's an object lesson for living a good life that everyone can follow, particularly the tiny subset of people who become famous.
Profile Image for Teresa.
370 reviews
January 10, 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 ever.

Really? Major things happen and nobody reacts, shouts, or gets angry or if they do manage to react it feels like a damp squib. It all just washes over them. As for a remarkable insight into the mind of a prodigy I felt the writer just didn't get there. Claude was, for me, boring beyond belief.

I felt all the way through that we were on the verge of something happening but there was such a flatness to the writing which let you down every time.

In the end, for me, it was readable but quite unsatisfying.
Profile Image for Erin Eileen.
Author 1 book10 followers
September 16, 2012
"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 various places in between. This ambitious novel covers the development of classical music, its intersection with jazz, questions of race and identity, class, mental illness, the lingering effects of the Holocaust, and gentrification of urban neighborhoods. Oh yes, there's also some dipping into McCarthy-era Red Scare tactics. These themes/explorations are always in service to the musical and personal development of Claude Rawlings -- character trumps all in this novel. (Should I mention the interesting sex scenes? Sexual identity is also part of the elaborate landscape Conroy paints.) This is one to keep close by and read again and again.

Profile Image for Christopher Litsinger.
727 reviews7 followers
July 25, 2022
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 inability to let the story end. Rarely, but with increasing frequency as the book draws to a close, Conroy will give us a glimpse of what happens after the books conclusion. I often find these to be disappointingly trite observations, or in one extreme example, answering a question that the book would be far better leaving open ended.
This is the opening of the book, and probably tells you everything you need to know:
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 legs and feet of people passing by on the sidewalk, his child’s mind falling still in contemplation of the ever-changing rhythms and tempos of legs and feet moving across his field of vision. An old woman with thin calves, a kid in sneakers, men in wingtips, women in high heels, the shiny brown shoes of soldiers. If anyone paused he could see detail — straps, eyelets, a worn heel, or cracked leather with the sock showing through — but it was the movement that he liked, the passing parade of color and motion. No thoughts in his head as he stood or knelt at the window, but rather, from the images of motion, a pure impression of purposefulness. Something was going on outside. People were going places. Often, as he turned away from the window, he would muse on dimly sensed concepts of direction, volition, change, and the existence of the unseen.
Profile Image for Maryann.
616 reviews6 followers
September 30, 2014
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 like others, but he adapts and isn't held back by the social isolation. The story of his life is a song, full of emotion, connection, love, heartbreak, and, most of all, music.

This story is well written and very well researched. Most of the music talk goes over my head, but it wasn't frustrating or boring. The passion for the music comes through. Claude and the other characters are vivid and it's easy to become invested in them. There's a line in the book about a review of a concert Claude played in, about words being insufficient to describe music. Well played, Conroy- you did an amazing job.

Food: champagne. Clear, crisp, delightful, lively, and something one doesn't usually get much of on a regular basis, so it's meant to be savored.
Profile Image for Michael.
77 reviews9 followers
June 6, 2010
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 and if the technical ideas are legitimate. Along with a clear description of 12-tone music, this book does well to give some insight into music theory and the process of practicing and composing. The only qualm is that, by being a fiction novel, I am forced to question some of the legitimacy. Also, I am not convinced that someone not in my field could get out of the book what I have - indeed, a background in music theory is necessary to understand a good chunk of it. Overall, a very quick and indeed uplifting read, but possibly to a select audience.
98 reviews
October 14, 2014
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 what he's referring to, but he does it with such feeling that you don't really mind that you don't understand all the technical terms. The people he meets, the loves he has pull you into his life and its a wonderful read. I highly recommend Body and Soul. It's another one of those books you'll never forget.
2 reviews
January 18, 2010
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 main difficulty in describing this book to people is that when you say 'it's about a child prodigy who becomes a successful piano player and composer in the mid 20th century' people start to think you are kidding about the quality of the story.
Profile Image for Laura.
53 reviews
April 12, 2012
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 New York. It is really about his experience growing up alone. The neighborhood where he lives is also an interesting character. Such a rich book!
Profile Image for Jocelyn .
91 reviews20 followers
April 4, 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 delivering Claud's story were phenomenal.
Profile Image for Ms..
56 reviews
December 11, 2010
Body and Soul reminded me of novels I read in my teens by authors such as Somerset Maugham: tender, I guess, and incandescent. Claude's early years, spent in the basement miasma of his mother's dispair, were especially well done. There was a muted quality to the emotions throughout the entire book except for one quiet, bubble burst of sadness when he read paragraph 23.
Profile Image for Betsy.
290 reviews
July 28, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Cindy.
289 reviews2 followers
February 1, 2020
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 keys and sounding out the music he hears on the radio. And the few times he is allowed out, he gravitates to a small music store run by a kind Jewish gentlemen. This association begins an exceptional journey, as Mr. Weisfeld quickly realizes the boy’s natural gift for the piano. He becomes Claude’s first tutor, and arranges for him to study with many great instructors. The book chronicles the next decade or so, as Claude increases in talent and learns a few things about friendship, love and life.
**I’ll tell you now, it helps to have a love of music and at least a basic knowledge of the piano if you want to stay involved in this story. The technical details of Claude’s advanced piano instruction are extensive, so be prepared! But I was fascinated. The author does a great job weaving the emotional parts of Claude’s life with the complicated details of what it takes to become a truly accomplished pianist and composer. My heart went out to this little lost child, and I was fascinated by how much more there is to REALLY learning the piano. The other characters—his mom, the piano teachers, and his school associates, not to mention Catherine, a rich and snobby girl with whom he is obsessed—are also well written. Every character has his/her own distinct voice, and together they form the body of this tale, and help young Claude to develop his own soul. I’m going with 3.5 stars. ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Profile Image for Amy.
Author 2 books151 followers
July 9, 2011
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 be kept safe. (Reminded me of the farmer folk, who in earlier generations, would clothe their toddlers in long dress-like garments, and then anchor the hem under the bed, so that the child could move, but not wander off. They'd leave the children food and something to drink, knowing they were safe from harm while their parents worked the fields, then free them when parents were home for meals, etc. Different world -- today would be child endangerment or child abuse.)

It was interesting to see Claude's world unfold as he discovered music, an old piano in the apartment and as he began his relationship with his mentor Mr Weinstein. Claude was indeed gifted, but had a remarkable about of luck too, with teachers, performance opportunities and even the women in his life. I've often marveled how some people are "born lucky" as well as talented, so much so that despite crummy things that happen, they still land on their feet.

Interesting to note that this in considered Conroy's debut novel. He wrote other books (nonfiction I think) and headed the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa for 18 years. I've rated this book a 4, even though I felt the last third was a 3, because the early days in NYC delighted me so.

Profile Image for Kathy Curtis.
Author 6 books4 followers
September 12, 2020
I'm reviewing this book before finishing it, because I don't want it to end. I haven't loved a book for so many reasons in some time, and I'm relishing it. I love Conroy's great storytelling, I love the elements of the story (a young boy coming of age in NYC with prodigy-level talent surrounded by loving older men who ensure his safe and extraordinary passage through life), and I love the theme of striving for excellence around which the story is built. Though I am not musical, myself, I couldn't get enough of Conroy's deep dive into the very heart and soul of music. What an extreme pleasure this has been. Some books truly change your life, and this has been such a book for me.
Profile Image for Judy.
974 reviews58 followers
November 7, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Chan.
30 reviews
July 12, 2021
I enjoyed it very much! The atmosphere of New York in the mid 20th century, the life and upbringing of a gifted child in correlation to music theory and deep reflection about how and why music moves people. I could see a part of myself in the characters which also contributed to my love for 'Body & Soul'. Nevertheless, I felt as if there was no real climax and although it sometimes felt as if the story began to build up for the grand finale it never really did.
Would recommend it to everyone who has a passion for music or simply enjoys it.
Solid 4/5!
Profile Image for Nina Sankovitch.
Author 4 books407 followers
April 7, 2011
Reviewed on ww.readallday.org (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.
Profile Image for Dolors.
524 reviews2,180 followers
March 19, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Jen.
182 reviews1 follower
February 22, 2020
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. A world chanced into, and I liked it.
Profile Image for Holly.
318 reviews4 followers
February 4, 2020
I have so much to say about this book!

To categorize it is challenging for me, to compare to a recent read, it's kind of like David Copperfield... actually it's a lot like David Copperfield in the way it's told and the thoroughness of the writing. Also a painfully sad and neglected childhood and some good people turning it around for them. Sorry back to the point, it isn't a book with a big obvious story arch, it's simply the story of Claude Rawlings' life. What do you call that? Like a third-person narrative? Part I is Claude's childhood and discovering his musical talent, meeting Mr. Weisfeld and setting him on the path to be an amazing pianist (this section is the longest).

His childhood was probably my favorite part of the story. Especially the strange relationship with his mother and trying to understand her through his child eyes.

Part II is Claude's young adult/college aged life. Part III he's still in his mid-20s I'd say, he writes his concerto and it completes the story. It's interesting that it finishes there. I don't know why Conroy made that choice but it's worth thinking about.

The text is rich, descriptive, he could go on (and did) for pages about the technical study of the music. Stuff that was over my head as a mediocre musician, but it was fascinating nevertheless! I felt like I could read it all day even when I was just starting to understand the theory.

I loved how he used descriptions to really pinpoint the mood, the setting, etc. Little tiny things he would describe (the white of her ankles glowing as she walked in front of him down the hall ,that type of thing). I thought the writing was impeccable.

Claude is given everything, but it doesn't spoil him. He does kind of float through life unaware of what he's truly been given, yet somehow he is endeared to us. It's because his truly is a prodigy, a brilliant mind that easily retreats into his own mind at any time. He seems to not understand the way people act around him and not really care about it either way. The music is part of him and it's what keeps him moving forward. Not the people or things in his path.

I just read a NYT review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of this from 1993, and it called it "compulsive storytelling". PERFECT. YES.

(Link: https://www.nytimes.com/1993/09/20/bo...)

That's what hooked me on this one, the compulsiveness.

That, and the music! Any time I could and they mentioned a piece, I'd find it on Spotify and listen all the way through as I read. I highly recommend you do the same if you read it. I had a lot of admiration for classical music, and even more for jazz and reading this brought me back to the joy I have found in both.
Profile Image for Caroline Barron.
Author 2 books39 followers
August 2, 2015
Of course Conroy was an accomplished jazz pianist. There is no chance a non-musician could write about music the way this man does. I studied music through to my last year of school; I sing, play piano and guitar. Body & Soul gave me so many ‘a-ha!’ moments; musical moments I did not think could be put into words: the feeling of music hanging around on a separate track from your conscious mind (“as if the music existed independently of him, flowing along in a corner of his brain” (61)); of gorgeous, traumatised Weisfeld explaining the magic of harmonics (72/73); and Fredericks witnessing Claude’s intense emotional connection to music (“He wanted to leave his body and go chase the music into whatever hyperspace had swallowed it” (96); and music being delivered through a muse (329).

I am particularly interested in the influence of music on writing. This started long ago, and was revived during my interview with Willy Vlautin, American novelist and famous alt-country musician (www.lovewordsmusic.com). I’ve come to believe a writer who can feel and understand musical rhythm has a more natural understanding of rhythm in writing. Frank Conroy is the best example of this yet.

Body & Soul is far-reaching in its cast and its complex weaving of storylines. The characters are unique and believable. I adored his mother Emma’s unexpected love-interest and also Weisfeld’s back story.

The book has flaws. I know that. But despite the (at times) lack of depth in Claude (and that he has life too easy) and the at times too-coincidental plot tie-ups, I love this book. It moved me deeply and I will buy a copy so I can re-read over and over again.

Personal note: I read this because Frank Conroy was Paula Morris' teacher at Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Paula is my writing teacher at the University of Auckland.
Profile Image for Gary.
461 reviews17 followers
February 4, 2022
F Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the rich are different from you and me. The sardonic obvious response is, yes, they have more money. Might we add that the talented are different from you and me. That makes a good story. I find myself unduly thrilled by otherwise straightforward writing and storytelling when the subject is the development of an extraordinary talent. I devoured The Queen's Gambit and The Power of One, in which the subjects are really chess and boxing. I am now enchanted by Frank Conroy's masterful Body & Soul, which follows Claude Rawlings from his childhood isolation in a tenement apartment while his mother drove a cab, exploring the white nightclub piano in the storage room and beginning to make connections. The story is beautifully told, and the musical allusions and anecdotes are not only entertaining but they leave you believing that you know more about music than you actually do. Conroy believes, as I do, that true musical genius arises from some mysterious place that is not adequately defined by genes. Conroy conveys that mystery as well as I can imagine it being done. There is more to the story -- the Red Scare of the early Cold War; the charm of post-war New York City; race; class; corruption -- but it doesn't deflect the ascent of our picaresque hero. The plot twists define episodes, and the occasional cliche is a wry reminder that even the most exalted interior life is built on the sturdy legs of our common humanity. Conroy, who spent his life around writers (he was the long-time director of the Iowa Writer's Workshop), produced only one novel. I might wish for more, but if you only had one novel in you waiting to get out, be glad that this is it.
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