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American Music (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – June 14, 2011

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (June 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030747397X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307473974
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,252,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Jane Mendelsohn on American Music

The first moment of inspiration for American Music came in 1996 when I learned the remarkable fact that there was a secret formula for making cymbals. I was in Maine for a reading of my first novel, I Was Amelia Earhart, visiting with a writer friend and her husband. He is a member of the Zildjian family, the same family that has been making cymbals for centuries. I was fascinated by his story on many levels: the idea of a secret formula, the family history dating back to 17th century Turkey, the resonance and romance of music through the ages, and my own fantasy that there might be a secret formula for making symbols too.

I immediately envisioned a story about a woman searching for this formula, desperately, somewhat pointlessly but also movingly, as if it were the secret to life itself. I pictured her trying to work through a loss by realizing the simultaneity of all things, that memories, like symbols, and the sound of cymbals, contain all time. That idea changed over the years, but essentially remained a deep part of the book.

A while later, I heard from a friend who does bodywork about a man who refused to lie on his back. I began imagining a tale about why he wouldn't and started thinking of a character who was a soldier. The two ideas: the secret formula for making cymbals and the soldier with his mysterious reason for not lying on his back simmered in my mind as I started researching.

When I read about the history of cymbals, I was struck that these instruments developed in 17th century Turkey by an Armenian alchemist were so central to American music. I read about jazz and learned that it was the shift to leading the beat with the cymbals instead of the drums that marked the beginning of swing. It interested me that such a quintessentially American art form could be traced so clearly to a moment in time so distant and different from America in the 1930's, which was when swing began. And I was also struck that Istanbul in 1623 was a place of cosmopolitanism, a vibrant melting pot of cultures.

I was at this point in my thinking about the book, and living in New York City, when 9/11 occurred. That I had been writing about Islamic culture and its relation to 20th century America felt uncanny. And when we went to war, the fact that I had been writing about a soldier felt uncomfortable. I put the book away for a while. My daughter was two, and not long after, I had another baby.

But I could not stop thinking about cymbals and about the soldier. I worked on the book in my head while I pushed my daughters on the swings in Washington Square Park, the destruction at ground zero so close but at the same time, in the playground, seemingly very far away.

Eventually, the strands I had been working on came together, found each other in a way, in one larger narrative about families and love stories and the world that goes on while war is happening someplace else. Of course I am still searching for that secret formula.

(Photo © Nick Davis)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This digressive novel by the author of I Was Amelia Earhart probes intersecting tales that emerge from the work done by a masseuse-cum-shaman. Honor is a 21-year-old physical therapist at the Bronx VA hospital; Milo Hatch is a particularly traumatized patient who was severely wounded in Iraq. During Milo's treatment, both he and Honor begin having visions of people they don't know. The narrative breaks up in pursuit of the stories behind the visions of the late 1930s love triangle between Joe, a saxophone player and law student; his wife, Pearl, unable to have children after many miscarriages; and Pearl's cousin, Vivian, who shares with Joe a passion for jazz. (Mendelsohn provides, for instance, a tidy excursus on the significance of cymbals in jazz, tracing their provenance to 17th-century Istanbul.) The fallout from Joe and Vivian's messy affair connects back to present day, yet the music evoked by this ponderously embellished work remains a vague, distant noise. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Jane Mendelsohn is an American author. Her first novel was the critically acclaimed international bestseller I Was Amelia Earhart. Born and raised in New York City, she attended the Horace Mann School and Yale, where she was a Connecticut Student Poet and graduated summa cum laude. After attending Yale Law School for one year, she left to pursue writing. She began publishing literary reviews in the Village Voice in 1990. Since then, her reviews have appeared in The Guardian, the New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, The Yale Review, and the London Review of Books.

Her first novel, I Was Amelia Earhart, was published by Knopf in 1996 and became a New York Times best seller. It was translated into many languages and short-listed for the Orange Prize. Her second novel, Innocence, was published in 2000. It is being developed as a feature film by Killer Films. Her most recent book is American Music, published by Knopf to wide acclaim in the summer of 2010 and now out in paperback from Vintage.

She lives in New York City with her husband and daughters.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 12 customer reviews
Her writing is brilliant, poignant, wise, and lyrical.
Andrew Solomon, Author
As Honor and Milo together uncover an alarming, mysterious power to unlock the past, we are introduced to characters spanning several decades, even centuries.
Through the ages, the power of stories has defined and guided and transformed and healed us.
Jill I. Shtulman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Solomon, Author on June 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read American Music with very high hopes as I'd been a huge fan of I Was Amelia Earhart and had liked Innocence, and I was hoping that Jane Mendelsohn would rise to that high standard after some years of not publishing. I was really blown away. Her writing is brilliant, poignant, wise, and lyrical. The book is full of mystery, and it plays on various formal devices, but it never takes on the awkwardness of so much postmodern fiction. There is a deep humanity at its center, a kindness both within the characters and surrounding them, a generosity of authorial spirit that is infinitely touching. The plot is engrossing and there is ample wit. It is a structural miracle, as delicate and perfectly arranged and assembled as a snowflake. When you read it, it seems as though you are getting everything in it, but after that, you find yourself thinking and thinking about it, and applying its insight to real life. Mendelsohn's work is often in the form of a perfect miniature, and this has some of that diminutive quality, but it is also a work of substance, and it will change the way you think and feel. I am afraid this will sound like hyperbole, but it is in fact my honest response to a gorgeous work of fiction. I wish I could have that lovely voice of the novel beside me always.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By P. Koffler on June 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
American Music is that rare joy - a book that is totally absorbing, beautifully written and intensely moving. It is a story that stays with you long after its final pages. The writing is heart-stoppingly gorgeous, fiercely imaginative and above all, literary. While it is an intimate experience to read the book, it's emotional scope is wide and deep. The various stories seem so divergent, yet they tie together in the most lovely and unexpected ways. After I finished it, I really felt as if I had been somewhere.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on June 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In 2005 twenty-one year old physical therapist Honor works at the Bronx VA hospital. Her current patient is Iraqi veteran Milo, having suffered a spinal column trauma. He is moody and uncooperative, but she goes about her job with professionalism.

However, as she begins to touch parts of his body, the therapist and the patient begin seeing visions of people they never met. There is jazz saxophonist Joe, his wife Pearl and Vivian her cousin. Vivian shares Joe's love of music; while Pearl studies the law and they have an affair. The therapist and the patient meet others from the past like the late 1960s-1970s trio Iris, Alex, and Anna and early seventeenth century in Turkey Parvin, Kaya and Hyacinth. Honor and Milo struggle to connect dots as the visions become clearer with each new revelation.

This is a fascinating well written metaphysical tale in which the diverse deliberately slow paced segues repeat several times with each new rendition adding depth to what Milo and Honor learn about the dance of forbidden love over the ages. Like the lead couple, readers will need to know what is going on in the different pasts and why this pair "see" these vivid dramas at this time.

Harriet Klausner
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By I. Sachs on June 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A dazzling achievement. Wild and wise, and beautifully imagined. Mendelsohn's book is like an elegant merging of music and fiction, its full of great characters, and stories, but it also achieves something more lyrical. The passion is in the language, as much as in the plot. Like Michael Ondaatje, or Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Mendelsohn is both a born poet and a natural storyteller. And in her new novel, she gives us a romantic view of New York City, and American life, unlike any I have ever seen.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. Marks on June 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In Jane Mendelsohn's beautifully written third novel,"American Music," stories live inside bodies. It is our privilege to discover them through connections that reach across time, through love and real pain, transcending history and culture, in order to reveal a true belief in the power of intimacy and imagination. There is a radiant quality of characters alone, yet irrepressibly connected through a shared drive to live and love. That the story begins with something inexpressible, trauma hidden inside the back of an Iraq War veteran, that this core of silence unleashes passions that bring us into worlds of boundless invention, full of sound and beauty, is a profound surprise. "American Music" proposes an original notion about the relation of the self, separate and finite, and the world, expansive and enduring. In Mendelsohn's hands they are the same, the self and the world, tangled together, making new stories, dance, music, images, stories - stories to read!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alice Naude on June 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
American Music is an astonishing, beautifully-realized meditation on the power of stories - their power to bind us, to separate us, and, over time, to create complex personal and cultural histories. When Honor, a young massage therapist, touches Milo, a solider wounded physically and emotionally by the war in Iraq, images of people images flash in their minds like a simultaneously playing movies. Who are these people and why do they appear? This is the mystery that the reader, Honor and Milo unravel together. Mendelsohn's prose is full of startlingly beautiful images and passages of deep wisdom. Yet this book of poetic ideas is most satisfying in the way it pulls you in, keeps you turning the pages, inviting you to participate in the unraveling of a history that includes us all. American Music is a luminous and totally original book you must read.
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