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Book 9

  1. Meredith, Martin — The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (736 pages)
  2. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o — Wizard of the Crow (766 pages)
  3. Coetzee, J.M. — Life & Times of Michael K (182 pages)
  4. Saint-Exupery, Antoine de — The Little Prince (101 pages)
  5. Brunner, John — Stand on Zanzibar (661 pages)
  6. Dahl, Roald — Fantastic Mr Fox (79 pages)
  7. Walker, Barbara — TEENY-TINY and the Witch-Woman (29 pages)
  8. Shakespeare, William — A Midsummer Night's Dream (23 pages)
  9. Powers, Richard — The Time of Our Singing (631 pages)

Page count: 3208.

I feel as if I've just read a 1200-page book, as the font and leading are so small and there is no extra space between chapters. But what a book! I am going to miss this deep immersion into the thoughts of Joseph Strom as he closely chronicles the lives of his brother Jonah, his parents, and everyone else that falls into the Strom-Daley orbit!

This is a fascinating book! It's a story about identity and race. The story involves the brothers Joseph and Jonah Strom as they grow up "beyond race" in an America that is undergoing racial upheaval. They're mother, Delia Daley, is light-skinned black, from a very talented, musically and otherwise, and proud family in Philadelphia. Their father, David Strom, is a white Jewish German refugee, a physicist at Columbia University, and apparently the only member of his family not killed by the Nazis. Delia and David try to protect their children, Joseph, Jonah, and Ruth, from the racial prejudices of society, and in many ways this novel is a trial to determine the success of this experiment as we follow (episodically, non-chronologically) how each member of the family sees him- or herself within the context of racial relationships/identities and the broader fabric of life.

In addition to the human characters, Physics (especially Time and Relativity), Music (especially Vocal Music), and History (especially American History) are prime shapers in the narrative, inextricably a part of their lives in very real and intimate ways. Throughout the story, the characters face musical, scientific, and historical signposts that shape their lives, subtlely or not, or that they can recontextualize as metaphors for their lives. There's Delia's experiences as a thwarted opera singer, and the love of music she and David pass on to their children. There's David's probing into the secrets of relativity, mysteries (such as the concept that there is no such thing as "now") which he shares with his children. There's the main narrative thread, Joseph and Jonah as classical musicians rising through the ranks, winning over audiences while trying to avoid classification as "Negro" musicians. There's David and Delia meeting at Marian Anderson's historic Easter concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial; David and Ruth finding themselves back there for Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech; the story ending (sort of) in the same location for the Million Man March, with a small dose of magical realism thrown in to underscore the fluidity, the flow, of history, of time, and of music.

Powers shapes the story well, in a manner that draws you in and brings history, music, physics, and the lives of the Stroms and Daleys to life in an almost tangible way. I suppose one who knows a bit about physics, music of all kinds, and American history would enjoy Powers writing more. He has a reputation, as a physics major and amateur singer, for not shying away from deep theoretical discussions in these fields. But I don't believe there's anything in here beyond the broadly-educated layperson, and I do feel his skillfully wrought prose is nonetheless accessible and compelling.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
spwebdesign
Aug. 15th, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC)
Not sure how to answer your question, since I don't know how far you got and don't want to spoil things. I don't think cheerful is the right word, although there is an episode near the end that made me shed a few happy tears on the Tube. The ending itself I would describe as more redemptive and uplifting. Yes, Joseph's narrative is imbued with sadness, but the ending in a way justifies and redeems it.

I've had The Goldbug Variations on my shelves for a couple of years and do look forward to reading it. I've heard a lot of great things about Galatea 2.2 as well as Plowing in the Dark.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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