Saturday, May 21, 2016

"The Noise of Time", a gem of a novel from Julian Barnes

This small book is a thumb nail biography of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.  Well known and highly regarded author Julian Barnes has researched the basis facts of Shostakovich's life, as well as some interesting factual asides, and inhabits the mind of the composer as he goes through his life, much in the way that Norman Mailer did with some of his more famous characters.

The book is also a critique of life in the former Soviet Union, and the background of fear that was always there for anyone with any stature at all, and consequently under Stalin for their families and acquaintances as well.  Honecker's East Germany and Saddam Hussein's Iraq can serve as two of the more apt comparisons, although China today is moving back more fully in that direction as children are trained in school to report on their elders.

The word "destiny" is a constant theme of this novel, even as it is described as "just a grand term for something you could do nothing about."  "Irony" is another frequently mentioned word, which sustained the fellow captives of their government until it "curdled into sarcasm.. Sarcasm was irony which has lost its soul."

In the last year or so,  I have given up trying to protect books that are purchased here.  Why even think that they will be saved by anyone or used by others.  I mark them up with abandon now, and none more so than "The Noise of Time".  There are phrases or observations on almost every other page that catch my attention, and in the event that I reread the book all of the highlights are mapped out.  There is much to savor in this meticulously written and penetratingly thoughtful book.

And then there is the focus on music, really any type of music, and under the state, the question of "whom it belongs to?"  Not being able to answer that question "was the correct answer.  Because music, in the end, belonged to music.  That was all you could say, or wish for.."

This is an exceptional literary work of historical fiction.  That's an opinion of course, but the book worked well here to say the least.


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