9780312422189 / 0312422180

The Time of Our Singing: A Novel





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About the book:

Richard Powers' novel The Time of Our Singing has had the kind of pre-publishing hype that few literary novels enjoy. "One of the greatest American novels ever written" is the sort of praise that has been laid at the feet of this one, but this enthusiasm for the work of Richard Powers is nothing new. In books such as Plowing the Dark, Powers has shown himself capable of a remarkable balancing act: his books have had a strong scientific underpinning, carefully balanced with allusions to classical art and couched in narratives that have the sweep of the great nineteenth-century novelists. Here, the complex plot manages to take in the demands of artistic talent, familial conflict and a nation divided by racism.

The central character is Jonah Strom, a highly talented tenor of mixed-race born to Jewish physicist David Strom (who has fled Germany) and Delia Dailey, a middle-class black opera singer. The relationship of Jonah's parents began at the famous recital given by the great black soprano Marion Anderson when she was rejected by the classical music establishment. David and Delia are very different people, but their love of music becomes central to the lives of their sons; the singer Jonah and his younger brother Joseph, who becomes a pianist and accompanies his brother. While Jonah struggles for the acceptance of the white establishment, his rebellious younger sister Ruth takes a different path and confronts the issues of race in her life by marrying a Black Panther and taking on her enemies. It is left to Joseph to find an accommodation somewhere between these two extremes.

While all the younger characters here are drawn with the kind of lucid detail that is Powers particular speciality, the real skill of the narrative lies in the parents David and Delia. The former is, in fact, the most richly drawn character, with his humanity and intellect triumphantly brought to life. The discursive narrative needs careful attention from the reader, and this is not a book for those seeking undemanding reading. But the rewards here are many: this is a biting and exuberant novel that isn't afraid to tackle many uncomfortable issues. --Barry Forshaw

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