The book is a coming-of-age novel, something that in other languages is expressed more pointedly as the novel of education. Nol, "the judge's son,' is the person whose moral sentiments are being educated. But that education is acquired at the expense of an infinitely more valuable person, the young woman Nol loves, who has been exploited by men of weight and standing in their provincial community-all of them human, disgracefully human.
Not tells the story from the time he was five years old, when, inspired by a rendition of one of Souza's marches in the garden where the brass band played, he danced with the conductor's daughter, taller and older than himself, before a bemused assemblage of adults. The web of incident and reflection in Nol's narration astonishes the reader with the texture of the lives it evokes, ending with Nol's small, crucial defection that precipitates tragedy. In The Garden Where the Brass Band Played, as with every real novel of the genre, it is the reader whose sentiments are educated, by the pain of it, and no doubt rather too late.