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Body and Soul Paperback – June 8, 1998

107 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When the author of Stop-Time and Midair produces a new work, it is an event to celebrate. And although Conroy's bildungsroman of a boy finding his identity in his musical genius has some flaws, it is by and large an engrossing novel, written in a supple and elegant prose and displaying remarkable insight into the mind of a prodigy. Conroy's protagonist is Claude Rawlings, who grows up in the 1940s in the shadow of New York's Third Avenue El. Claude's education in some ways is similar to Billy Bathgate's: neglected by his emotionally unstable, alcoholic, cab-driver mother, he shines shoes, lifts coins from sewers and learns to steal. He is introduced to another world when Aaron Weisfeld, a music store owner and WW II refugee, recognizes his musical gifts and transports him to the Park Avenue apartment of a maestro whose Bechstein piano Claude uses and eventually inherits. Even more in the Dickensian mode, Claude falls in love with a cold, arrogant young woman from a patrician New York family, a character who is eerily similar to Estella in Great Expectations . Conroy's depiction of a young boy's discovery of music, the awakening of his sensibility and the flowering of his genius is brilliant. Lucid explanations of musical theory ranging from basic harmonics to the 12-tone scale, from Bach to Charlie Parker to Schoenberg, provide a continuum of insights and discoveries for Claude and for the reader. The first half of the book sweeps Claude along a path strewn with almost miraculous lucky breaks: he has inspired teachers and generous and appreciative patrons; his concerts are unalloyed triumphs--and only the cynical will wish for a disaster to increase the tension. (Readers of Stop Time will also recognize in Claude's childhood an alternative version of Conroy's miserable youth.) The second half is less successful. Claude's immersion in music, an obsession that makes him fascinating as a youth, renders him hollow as a man, and while Conroy obviously intends to demonstrate that Claude's emotional life is sterile in several ways, as a protagonist for a time he becomes a muted and shadowy figure. Claude's unquestioning relationship with the kindly Weisfeld, his first and abiding teacher, is less credible once he matures. The revelation of Claude's patrimony is poignantly rendered, however, and provides another look at the nature of creativity. And the book as a whole is harmoniously orchestrated and beautifully observed. 125,000 first printing; film rights to Spring Creek Productions; major ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

From rags to riches--by way of musical genius--in this alluringly atmospheric first novel by Conroy of Stop-Time (1967) fame. In a squalid basement apartment on New York's Third Avenue toward WW II's end, a fatherless little kid named Claude Rawlings spends his days alone while his mother--obese, left-wing, prone to booze and to bouts of instability--drives a cab for a living. The days are long, and to while them away Claude bangs around on a small white piano (his mother was once a singer) half buried in the back of the apartment--and the rest, you could say, is history. Claude's awakening to music is splendidly, rivetingly, described, and the Horatio Alger-esque clich‚s and coincidences are readily forgiven as the boy tears through his beginning-level lessons, becomes the student of nearby music-store proprietor (and ‚migr‚, having fled from the Nazis) Aaron Weisfeld, stumbles into a full scholarship at a ritzy private high school, has his big break performing the Mozart double concerto with the world's greatest pianist, marries a pretty girl with a five-million-dollar trust fund, gets divorced five years later when it's discovered that.... In other words, once Claude is grown and launched, Conroy fills out his novel with more and more soap-opera turns, among them the death of Aaron Weisfeld (after the long-postponed revelation of his past), Claude's resultant and extended breakdown (connected also with his own medical secret), his sudden recovery and meteoric rise to new fame as the composer of a prize-winning concerto to be premiered in London, where, in case you're wondering what ever became of Claude's long-ago first teen heartthrob, or why he still hasn't ever found out who his father was.... Still, especially for the first two-thirds: a masterful coming-of-ager set in a now-vanished New York, with great music, and the life of great music, galore. (First printing of 75,000; film rights to Spring Creek Productions) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 450 pages
  • Publisher: Delta (June 8, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038531986X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385319867
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Rara Avis on October 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
I read this book about 2 years ago and am preparing to read it again, something I almost never do. But I am a serious musician and this is the first fiction book I have read (people constantly give me books about "musicians" and I can never get past the first few innacurate,idealized pages), to portray the life of a classical musician accurately. (Try Hilary and Jackie for a non-fiction account, although now that's a very depressing story, Body and Soul is not.) For those who aren't musicians it may be hard to understand, that yes, people do "sponsor" and mentor young musicians with talent. No amount of money can instill this gift, it's a democratic talent. When musicians have this gift, and not just the ability, you can feel it radiating off of them, and it's intoxicating. I've been loaned gorgeous instruments I could never afford, been given ridiculously low prices for repair; once I had my instrument stolen and bought a cheap one to replace it,which I took to the repair shop. It was returned to me in an expensive case, completely outfitted and repaired--like Cinderella and the pumpkin. (And I'm nowhere near as talented as Conroy's hero.)So, the story rings true although it's not a common story. The hero's talent is massive, and there is only a handful of musicians it could pertain to in the entire world, but it's accurate as well as beautifully told and skillfully written. I was sad to come to the last pages, so I'm returning to this wonderful book.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on September 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
Body and Soul was named best book of 1993 by Publisher's Weekly. There's a good-guy hero, and there's adversity for him to courageously overcome to reach his dream. Director of the Writer's Workshop at the Univ of Iowa, Frank Conroy avoided the easy-out of formula fiction in favor of crafting his novel with straightforward language and careful writing. We meet 6yo Claude, trapped in a NY apartment all day while his mother drives a taxi. He discovers an old piano in his basement apartment and learns to play. As his talent is recognized, interesting people come into his life and help him along the way toward recognition as a prodigy. As a bonus, the story is set in New York in the 30s thru the 60s, so weget a sociology lesson in inner city life of that era.
Also, read Conroy's engaging memoir, Stop-Time.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By David J. Gannon on February 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Body and Soul tracks the development of a young fellow named Claude Rawlings from the first intimations that this child has a unique musical talent through his childhood and young adulthood as he hones and develops that talent, finally to emerge as a full blown classical piano star.
It's an interesting twist on the conventional coming of age story. Many cite this as the classic "rags-to-riches" tale but, in truth, there is very little of either rags or riches involved. it's mostly about the sort of commitment and dedication--and the lucky breaks- on has to engage in to be a success of this type on this order.
I'm not sufficiently qualified to judge whether the actual "apprenticeship" aspects of the book are realistic--it's been criticized by some on that score--but it all seemed reasonable to me. If it's not truly realistic it's not ridiculously unrealistic either--and no basis for not enjoying the book on it's other merits.
Conroy has a clear, concise and engaging writing style and has the ability to effectively convey mood within the story. The result is a inspiring and entertaining tale that will, for many, open a window onto a world most of us don't know much about.
This is well worth a read.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Musician and reader on July 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
After reading other reviews, I felt compelled to add my own. This is the best book I have ever read and as a musician, there are things about this book only musicians would understand. yes, you can be six and love to practice, you can turn out normal even if all you do is music, and music is a natural talent. One can develop the talent at a very young age without any guidance. Conroy displays all these traits with his character, Claude, and he does it beautifully. When I was a child, I'd sit at the piano for hours and I did somewhat teach myself how to read music. I didn't have a piano teacher yet but I still figured songs out and loved everything about the instrument. But I want to defend Conroy in that some children truly have a calling and will motivate themselves. Besides my argument, this book is extremely entertaining and when it was over I searched the back to make sure there were no hidden pages.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By carmenmiranda on October 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
Amazon has the wrong author listed for this book...the correct author is FRANK CONROY. This read this book years ago, when it first came out, and just reread it for the second time. It's as fresh and true as the first time. The story of Claude, his troubled mother, how he found his way to the piano and thus, the rest of his life has stayed with me as few have. I know nothing about playing the piano, but the way the author describes how a person like Claude hears sounds, the patterns they make and how they influence his music was fascinating. I ran out and bought an Art Tatum tape, thinking I would understand and better appreciate jazz after reading this book, but unfortunately, that was not the case. Any way, another reviewer has described some flaws in the book as far what a real concert musician would or wouldn't have done. I suppose that's the trouble with reading books that have to do with something you have some expertise in---little details get in the way of your enjoyment of it. More's the pity, because this book is a wondrous experience. It will pull you in from the first page and not let you go til you are finished.
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