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The Bells: A Novel Hardcover – September 14, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Chronicling the journey of 18th-century singer Moses Froben from his Swiss village to Vienna, this debut novel strikes many melodramatic notes in an overwrought plot; squalor, beauty, horror, forbidden love, tragedy, and triumph splash broadly, sometimes artfully, but often with operatic excess. Moses, born to a deaf-mute in a belfry, possesses a unique bond to music. Cast from his home, he joins a choir, discovering that he can mold "that ocean of sound... into something beautiful." Harvell, however, shows his own limitations when he seeks to describe the resonance of music. When Moses says, "I wished I could dissolve into sound," the reader shares his frustration. A tormented choirmaster castrates Moses to preserve his beautiful voice, transforming him into a "musico," a soprano whose voice never deepens, and who will never be a man. His ability to sound like an angel brings him into contact with a wealthy family, sparking an impossible love affair with a beautiful but crippled woman. Moses's ardor impels him to Vienna and its vibrant opera scene, where his brief appearance on stage allows love to triumph before, unsurprisingly, tragedy brings down the curtain.
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Born in a belfry in the Uri Valley of the Swiss Alps, where his deaf-mute mother rang the Loudest Bells on Earth, Moses Froben possesses both a remarkably sensitive ear and an exquisite singing voice, enabling him to overcome his humble origins to become Lo Suizzero, the musical toast of Europe in the eighteenth century. In papers left for the son he raised but did not sire, Froben recounts being rescued from his father’s murderous plan by monks Nicolai and Remus and taken to their abbey, where the choirmaster recognizes the boy’s gift and goes to inhumane lengths to preserve it. In the neighboring town, Moses meets Amalia Duft, daughter of the area’s wealthiest man, whose love becomes a beacon for his life even after his castration. Despite an opening note that reveals part of the story, Harvell builds suspense as Moses struggles against the superior forces of the noble family Amalia is forced by duplicity to marry into, reaching a bittersweet conclusion. Taking few liberties with history, Harvell has fashioned an engrossing first novel ringing with sounds; a musical and literary treat. --Michele Leber