Music of a Life (Book Review)


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A story with relatively few words but full of meaning, The Music of Life is the life of a frustrated musician. The story is told by a narrator who meets the musician in a train station probably in Siberia and in a snowstorm. The narrator in the middle of many stranded travelers looks for a chair when the sound of soft music beckons him to a deserted part of the train station where old furniture is stored. There he meets this musician and tells us his story as coincidences bring them together, on and off, several times.

During the Stalin Era, Alexei Berg, the pianist, escapes from Moscow just before his first public recital. As he does so, he finds out that his parents are arrested, soon to be sent to exile. After quite a few incidents where people hide him and he narrowly escapes from harm, he finds his way to a battleground where Russians fought Germans in World War II. He dons the identity of a dead Russian soldier who looks like him and manages to fight in the war to later become the driver of a general whose life he saves during the war.

While working for the general, the musician falls for the general's young daughter who proves to be a callous and frivolous girl. When Alexei's mask falls, he is sent to Siberia for several labor-hardened years. This tragic story does not end with a disaster, but it is bleak throughout resembling the work of the older Russian masters, Chekhov and Dostoyevski.

What captivated me was author's use of selective language with intense economy, which reminded me of poetry. This story was originally written in French, then translated into other languages; although, in spirit, it always stayed Russian. The translator Geoffrey Strachan, too, deserves high praise for this successful translation.

The author, Andreï Makine, was born in Russia in Krasnoyarsk in 1957 and was granted political asylum in France in 1987. In 1995 his novel Dreams of My Russian Summers won the Goncourt Prize and the Médicis Prize, France’s two most prestigious literary awards. His works are: A Hero's Daughter (1996), Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer (1996), Once upon the River Amour (1996), Dreams of My Russian Summers (1997), Crime of Olga Arbyelina (2000), Requiem for a Lost Empire (2001), Music of a Life (2003), The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme (2005), The Woman Who Waited (2005)

This book is in hardcover, copyrighted in 2003, and with ISBN: 1559706376 and ISBN-13: 978-0743475600,

Music of a Life, although only 109 pages, is an epic in essence, since it is about love, loss, music, war, and political upheaval. It would make me very happy to see this wonderful writer win the Nobel Prize someday, only because (in my opinion), his work warrants it.

Joy Cagil is an author on http://www.Writing.Com/ which is a site for Fiction Writing . JoyCagil's formal education is in linguistics.


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