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"Remembering has its own pleasure, like spreading wings. The mind unfurls and proclaims its own sensuality.",
This review is from: Solo (Hardcover)
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Usually when I read a novel widely described as "controversial," I find myself seeing both sides of the controversy and writing about both sides when I write a review. With this prize-winning novel, however, I was so exhilarated at the author's bold originality, his ability to juggle his characters' vibrant and creative inner lives while also examining the depressing circumstances under which they live, the sweeping historical scope which includes the entire twentieth century, and his total control of language with all its potential to amaze with its images and ideas, that I must celebrate it as one of the most innovative and enjoyable books I have read in a long time.
Daringly experimental, the book has two parts, which represent the two parts of our lives, the world of reality and the world of the imagination and memory. The imaginative second part evolves from the events of the first part, with clear parallels. Set in Bulgaria, the novel features Ulrich, a main character who is almost a hundred years old and who has lived through the major political changes of the twentieth century. Blind, impoverished, and alone, he now lives in his memories and fantasies as his past unfolds, and the reader comes to know the pivotal events in his life and that of his country. A lover of music who had hoped to study violin, Ulrich is forced to switch to chemistry after his father angrily destroys his instrument, going to Berlin to study science until he runs out of money. He returns home to political unrest, and watches as student friends are arrested, the fascists take over, and the communists overthrow them ten years later. Ulrich's life revolves around his job in a steel works which pollutes the air, rivers, and land around it, and his days of music are over.
More philosophical and historical than it is psychological, emotional, or exciting in the first part, the novel changes at the halfway point when Ulrich's memories and wild fantasies become the story line. Here a young man named Boris, the same name as Ulrich's best friend in the first part, becomes the main character, a pig farmer who teaches himself to play the violin, learns from the gypsies, and enjoys his music. Succeeding chapters introduce other characters, such as Khatuna, a beautiful and very ambitious woman, and her sensitive poet brother, Irakli, who bring the country's history and the collapse of communism up to date. The two artists, Boris and Irakli, are the vehicles through which the author eventually comments on the art world, its commercialization, and its human parasites. Even the seemingly idyllic world of music and poetry has its down side.
When Boris, "the son of [Ulrich's] daydreams," faces the death of a friend, Ulrich enters the story himself to offer advice. In a passage of extraordinary beauty and sensitivity, one of the high points of the novel for me, Ulrich says, "[Your friend] will find his way inside you, and you'll carry him onward. Behind your heartbeat, you'll hear another one, faint and out of step...You won't wait until people die to grieve for them; you'll give them their grief while they are still alive, for then judgment falls away, and there remains only the miracle of being." A fine definition of love from a thoughtful and gifted author, not yet forty, in a book that I found astonishing in its depth. Mary Whipple