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The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music Hardcover – April 17, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 187 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Scurrying back to his office one day, Lopez, a columnist for the L.A. Times, is stopped short by the ethereal strains of a violin. Searching for the sound, he spots a homeless man coaxing those beautiful sounds from a battered two-string violin. When the man finishes, Lopez compliments him briefly and rushes off to write about his newfound subject, Nathaniel Ayers, the homeless violinist. Over the next few days, Lopez discovers that Nathaniel was once a promising classical bass student at Juilliard, but that various pressures—including being one of a few African-American students and mounting schizophrenia—caused him to drop out. Enlisting the help of doctors, mental health professionals and professional musicians, Lopez attempts to help Nathaniel move off Skid Row, regain his dignity, develop his musical talent and free himself of the demons induced by the schizophrenia (at one point, Lopez arranges to have Ayers take cello lessons with a cellist from the L.A. Symphony). Throughout, Lopez endures disappointments and setbacks with Nathaniel's case, questions his own motives for helping his friend and acknowledges that Nathaniel has taught him about courage and humanity. With self-effacing humor, fast-paced yet elegant prose and unsparing honesty, Lopez tells an inspiring story of heartbreak and hope. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* On the streets of the inner city, Los Angeles Times columnist and novelist Lopez (In the Clear, 2003) stumbled upon the story that changed his life. Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless African American man, was standing on a corner coaxing memorable music from a two-stringed violin. Turns out, 30 years earlier, Ayers had been at Juilliard studying classical bass when he experienced the first in a series of schizophrenic episodes that turned his musical dreams into a nightmare. Now, worlds away from the concert halls he imagined gracing, Ayers spends his days on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, fighting off rats and drug-frenzied fellow homeless—and serenading passersby. The spot where Ayers has chosen to play is no accident; it’s near the city’s statue of Beethoven and just down the hill from Walt Disney Concert Hall. Lopez quickly becomes an integral part of Ayers’ life, bringing him new instruments and even facilitating arrangements at a homeless shelter. But as he navigates the complex world of mental illness, Lopez discovers that good intentions (and good connections) are often powerless in the face of schizophrenia, a potent, prickly, unpredictable disease. Award-winning actors Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. are set to star in a movie version of this compelling, emotionally charged tale of raw talent and renewed hope. --Allison Block

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult; First Edition edition (April 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399155066
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399155062
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (187 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #892,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Busko VINE VOICE on April 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Let me say up front that I normally avoid books like the Soloist. When I picked it up, however, and started glancing through it I became hooked and couldn't really put it down. Is it a page turner? Not really. For me I became entangled with Steve Lopez, the author, and Nathaniel Ayers the focus of the book and simply had to see how the book ended.

Steve Lopez, a reporter for the LA Times, accidently hears violin music coming, apparently from nowhere. When he investigates he finds Nathaniel, an obviously down and out and homeless individual playing what is essentially a broken instrument. Intrigued, Steve Lopez becomes wrapped up in a mission to lift Nathaniel out of his obvious difficulties. Steve learns that Nathaniel was a former Juilliard student and a gifted musician. He was also suffering from mental illness (schizophrenia) leaving him basically disfunctional.

Throughout The Soloist the reader rides heavy seas with highs full of hope and then lows filled with disappointment and dispare. Through Nathaniel's story we see the value of the human spirit. Through the actions of Steve Lopez we see that a simple act of kindness and humanity is never wasted, regardless of our motives.

Steve Lopez is a wonderful writer and his story is worth your time to read.
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Format: Hardcover
In a neglected corner of L.A.'s Pershing Park stands a statue of Beethoven, hat and cane clasped behind his back. The minute Nathaniel Anthony Ayers laid eyes on it, he knew he'd landed in the right city. Los Angeles. The City of Beethoven.

Ayers, in his mid-50s, is a Julliard-trained bass player whose future as a musician crashed and burned when he suffered a psychotic breakdown midway through his studies in the early 1970s. The crack-up was probably prompted by the intensely competitive Julliard atmosphere, but also by the stressful fact that Ayers was a black student on a nearly all-white campus. His professors thought him brilliant. But with the onset of mental illness (later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia), Ayers dropped out of sight. Years later, he wound up in Los Angeles, discovered the statue of Beethoven (his musical hero), and settled down to a life in the streets where he serenaded passing traffic on a battered, two-stringed violin. Music was the abiding passion that kept him grounded. Music was the catalyst that brought beauty and peace to his frequently confused and always fragile world.

One day Steve Lopez, columnist for the "L.A. Times" and an engaging, insightful author, heard Ayers playing. Sensing a column topic, he struck up an acquaintance. The acquaintance unexpectedly blossomed into a friendship, and The Soloist is the story of that friendship. Lopez's sensitive memoir spotlights the disorientation of schizophrenia, the perils of living on the streets, and the difficulty in achieving recovery. But in telling Ayers' story, Lopez also reminds us that the mentally ill and the homeless possess dignity, a fierce need for autonomy, and a hunger for meaning and beauty in their lives.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My name is Joseph Russo -- I am one of Nathaniel's Juilliard friends mentioned in this book. I believe this book should be a "must read" for anyone who would like to more fully understand (and be affected by) the power of music and the importance of friendship....as well as the meaning of happiness and joy. It is a wonderful and ongoing story...Steve Lopez is an excellent writer befriending my dear friend Nathaniel who is a kind and wonderful person and extremely talented musician. You may want to read this book before you see the movie -- due out later this year.
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Format: Paperback
This is an odyssey of how one man tried to recover the psychologically unrecoverable: The idyllic world of lower class black Cleveland for Nathaniel Ayers was forever shattered when his parents divorced. His descent into a mental world of confusion followed by music, followed by schizophrenia, was in truth just an unguided lifetime search for his lost father, and thus ultimately a defensive quest to return to the serenity of his shattered childhood.

This beautifully penned book by Steve Lopez, Ayers friend and one of his many male mentors, proves that Humpty-Dumpty could not be put back together again. That is to say, that his shattered family circle could not be squared -- at least not within the parameters of the known range of human psychology.

In a desperate life-long search for his father, who after the divorce moved to Las Vegas to become a garbage truck driver, Mr. Ayers bounced from one surrogate father to another until he managed to stumble upon his life calling: classical music. Through a desire to please, an intense commitment and discipline to music, Ayers became not just an average musician, but one hailed as a talented emerging world-class child prodigy. These attributes catapulted him into Julliard on a music scholarship in the same class and orchestra as the famous cellist Yo yo Ma. However, the pressures of the family breakup, Ayers own fragile mental makeup, and the steep competition at Juilliard took its toll and eventually proved too much for the tenuously held together psychological threads of Nathaniel Ayers. He had a complete mental breakdown, was carted off to Bellevue, forever cutting short prospects for a successful music career.
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