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Comment: Condition: As new condition., As new dust jacket. Binding: Hardcover. / Edition: First US Edition, 1st Printing Publisher: Bloomsbury USA / Pub. Date: 2007 Attributes: Book, 276 pp / Stock#: 2063296 () * * *This item qualifies for FREE SHIPPING and Amazon Prime programs! * * *
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The Song Before It Is Sung: A Novel Hardcover – July 10, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (July 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596912685
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596912687
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,084,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Based on the lives of Adam von Trott and Isaiah Berlin, Cartwright's unsttling 12th novel follows Axel von Gottberg, a German, and his friend Elya Mendel, a British Jew, both Rhodes scholars at idyllic 1930s Oxford. Gottberg returns to Germany in 1934, ostensibly to rally opposition to Hitler, but Mendel publicly denounces him as a Nazi. Sixty years after Gottberg was executed for his role in the failed German coup of 1944, a dying Mendel entrusts his papers to a former student, Conrad Senior, and bids him to discover whether he had unjustly condemned his late friend. Senior, an insouciant writer whose life is a shambles, is transfixed by Gottberg, a man of courage and action, a womanizer with an operatic flair and a love for Hegel. Cartwright's treatment of the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler's life in 1944 is gripping. Conrad fails to see what an ambiguous figure Gottberg was—diffident about the fate of the Jews and finally concerned less about his country than his own achievements. The prose can be surprisingly hackneyed, while the characters rarely rise above caricature. It is difficult to discern whether the novel's sophistry, soap opera dialogue and lionizing of the ineffective German resistance are ironic. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In July 1944, a serious attempt was made on Adolf Hitler's life. That actual event serves as the basis for a darkly effective fictionalized depiction of one man's participation in the conspiracy, by a prizewinning South African-born novelist. The group members who attempted to take the fuhrer's life were tried and executed in a horrible fashion, among them a young Prussian count, called here Axel von Gottberg, who had been educated at Oxford in the 1930s and there became the close friend of Elya Mendel, an English Jew who eventually became a distinguished professor. In the present day, Mendel has left his collection of letters from Axel to a student, Conrad Senior, whose charge is to organize the papers. Consequently, he is faced with sorting out the dimensions of their relationship. The count caused a rift between himself and Mendel when he returned to Germany in 1934 and published a letter in an English newspaper that made him appear to be a Nazi sympathizer. The twin themes upon which this novel is constructed--personal betrayal and vicarious living (Senior finds himself "living more fully" through Mendel's and the count's lives)--greatly entice readers' interest on political, historical, and intellectual levels. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book has the most off-putting first page I think I have ever read. Never mind: it quickly gripped my attention. It is quite avowedly about the relationship between Isaiah Berlin, the Jewish Oxford philosopher, and Adam von Trott, the German aristocrat who had been a Rhodes scholar in Oxford and, while there, had been a close friend of Berlin's. Von Trott was a patriot for the "real" Germany, abhorring the Nazis, but feeling deeply the humiliating loss of German territories at Versailles. Back in his own country, he worked first as a lawyer, joined the Nazi Party because he had to, and then joined the German Foreign Office. Hoping to avoid war, he had secret contacts with the British ministers encouraging them to stand firm against Hitler. When war came and the Nazi regime unleashed its full brutality, he took part in the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, and was hanged.

It escapes me why Cartwright indulges in the nonsense of calling the protagonists Elya Mendel and Axel von Gottberg, and I do not intend to follow his example. He gives different names to several other historical characters: to Maurice Bowra, the Warden of Wadham (here called Lionel Wray and made the Warden of All Souls); to the American Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter (here called Michael Hamburger); to the Socialist Hans Leber (here called Franz Liebherr); possibly to Pastor Schönfeld (Pastor Schönborn); and to von Trott's wife. So one wonders which of the other people in the book are hidden behind false names and which are simply Cartwright's inventions. It was Bonhoeffer and Schönfeld, not von Trott, who contacted Bishop Bell of Chichester in Stockholm in 1942.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. Carlson on September 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Wonderful book, justly praised as a masterpiece by LA Times and amazing
by National Post. Do read this. It's about the War and two friends, one German one English. Utterly moving and convincing, on love, patriotism,
the war, and about obsession. How can anyone write a novel this good and
not be totally famous? Please, please give yourself a treat, as the Wall St Journal said.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By algo41 on March 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The novel is, at its core , a beautifully imagined take on the life of Adam von Trott, one of the July 20th plotters against Hitler. Von Trott exemplifies personal bravery, patriotism and commitment. While von Trott's patriotism and mystical inclination leads to a certain amount of self delusion, his involvement in the plot makes complete sense, even if he may have fooled himself into overstating the likely benefits of success. The novel is also an account of von Trott's friendship with Isaiah Berlin, but this is far less successful, principally because the Berlin of the novel is such an ordinary person, regardless of his intellectual attainments.

The account is supposedly written by a former student of Berlin, Conrad Senior, to whom Berlin leaves his papers relating to von Trott and their friendship. At various times in the novel Senior asks himself what Berlin hopes he will accomplish with this material, and comes up with various answers, but I believe the true answer is obvious: Berlin hopes that von Trott will receive his due.

The writing is quite good, and I also enjoyed the relationship between Conrad and his wife. The wife is most definitely sympathetic even as she ends their marriage.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By K. M. VINE VOICE on October 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Where is the song before it is sung?"

Justin Cartwright, in THE SONG BEFORE IT IS SUNG, argues, "Nowhere is the answer. One creates a song by singing it, by composing it." He expands his scope: "So, too, life is created by those who live it step by step."

In other words, does a human being make his own fate? Or do the constraints of his character and forces greater than himself constrain and even dictate his destiny?

THE SONG BEFORE IT IS SUNG would try to convince us that life is, quite starkly and unrelentingly, what it is and nothing more...that it has no meaning beyond just being. Yet, it protests too much. And it offers a character study -- that of "Axel, Count von Gottberg, a noble son of Mecklenburg and a true patriot" -- that challenges this hypothesis.

Von Gottberg is a fictional representation of a real German, Adam von Trott, whom Hitler had executed for collaboration in the famous and failed assassination plot at "Wolf's Lair" in Rastenburg, Prussia. Von Trott was friends with Isaiah Berlin. They hit a strained period when von Trott wrote a letter to an English newspaper in 1934 claiming anti-Semitism did not exist in the courts in Hesse where he lawyered. According to later assertions by mutual friends, as early as 1935 Berlin accepted von Trott's regret over the letter, and their friendship resumed.

In THE SONG BEFORE IT WAS SUNG, however, Berlin's fictional alter ego, Elya Mendel, is a less understanding man. He considers von Gottberg's letter evidence that the Count is a Nazi, whether von Gottberg admits it or not. Mendel and another Jewish friend write to U.S.
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