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La's Orchestra Saves the World: A Novel Hardcover – December 8, 2009
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Amazon.com Exclusive: Alexander McCall Smith on La's Orchestra Saves the World
I wrote La’s Orchestra Saves the World because I wanted to pay tribute to rather brave people. I wanted to say something about how ordinary people managed to get by during the Second World War. Most of them would not have regarded themselves as heroes and heroines, but they were. La (short for Lavender) was one of these. She worked on the land, helping a farmer with his chickens, and also started a little orchestra for British and American airmen. Music, she felt, helps. And it does--it inspires and heals.
The other group I wanted to pay tribute to was the Poles. Polish servicemen played a major role in the war. Their airmen, for example, participated in the Battle of Britain, that crucial battle that decided the fate of Europe. At the end of the war the Poles were betrayed and the contribution of their forces largely ignored. In the victory parade in London, the Poles were not allowed to march with everybody else (Stalin insisted on this). So those brave men stood at the side of the road and wept. This book is about them too.--Alexander McCall Smith
(Photo © Chris Watt)
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top Customer Reviews
La, the eponymous heroine, after a series of events, is living in the English countryside, somewhat rootless and aimless, when World War 2 breaks out. Her need -- never strongly felt -- to seek a place for herself gives way to a quest to make herself useful. She cares for a local farmer's hens, creates a garden -- and, to her own astonishment, creates a ramshackle kind of orchestra made up in part of the airmen from a local RAF base.
This is not a war novel in any sense; the conflict itself is distant from the day to day lives of La and her neighbors, even as they must cope with everything from the deaths of those they know to the vicissitudes of rationing. The style, plot and character development are as old-fashioned in feeling as La's proper name -- Lavender. But there is a hint of mystery and even tension when La comes on the scene. A Polish airman -- or is he? -- he plays the flute in La's orchestra, and helps out on the farm. But not everyone is as drawn to Felix as is La, and even she realizes there are some unanswered questions about his background...Read more ›
I had every intention while reading the book to express surprise in my review that the author should have tacked onto his story such an unnecessary and uninteresting first chapter: it's set probably in the present day, or close enough, and introduces La as someone already dead, her orchestra a distant memory. Her life story, then, is a reminiscence. I dislike having a story framed in this way as it distances one from the main narrative. And I suppose it's an unwelcome reminder of the ephemerality of a single life. It tells you the end of the story--she's dead; it's all finished now one way or the other--before it even begins. That said, when you get to the last pages of the book, the first chapter suddenly makes sense, so it is not just an unnecessary appendage after all. I still don't like it, though, and I don't like the last chapter, either. It would be a slightly different book--but quite possibly a better one--if the first and last chapters were simply cut from it and the rest left as it stands. The last sentence of the book's penultimate chapter would even serve very nicely as this revised story's conclusion. Still, La's Orchestra, a quiet book about momentous times, is yet another worthy addition to McCall Smith's extensive oeuvre.
-- Debra Hamel
However, I was disappointed with the novel. It's not McCall Smith's finest by any means.
The book opens well, 2 brothers return to the village where La used to live and the ensuing conversation with the locals tantalises us with hints about La, without revealing much. You read on feeling that an interesting story is about to unfold. However, the story of La's life is characterised by being largely uninteresting. La drifts along, mostly taking the path of least resistance until other people or external events force her to take a new direction. Some phases of La's life are dealt with in incredible detail and various future directions in the storyline seem to be introduced but they are never progressed. Then towards the end of the book I felt that some publisher's deadline must have been pressing and La's life is suddenly compressed into a quick sequence of events and then the book finishes.
As I turned the last page, I was unclear in what way La's Orchestra had saved the world? Indeed, the story of the orchestra is a relatively small part of the book. La lived a small life that briefly raised morale in a small way in a time of war. She had a long-term love affair that seemed to rely on chance rather than any effort by her to develop the relationship.
I fully believe it is possible to write an interesting story of an ordinary life (and the author does so in many of his novels). But this story didn't seem to achieve it. I am curious if the novel was inspired by a real person known to the author and this book was intended as some kind of homage.
It hasn't turned me off Alexander McCall Smith. I'm prepared to let an author experiment with a new style, but I think it was a failed experiment in this case.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This novel has all the elements I want in an entertaining book, all within 250 pages. The setting is a village in England before and during World War II. Read morePublished 11 days ago by Terra Hangen
This is an understated but powerful book. Those who say it doesn't do much don't understand that, apparently. Read morePublished 17 days ago by Snaildarter
Alexander McCall Smith has a precious gift in telling quiet stories that sooth souls. This sweet story set during WW II in England shows the silent, sturdy courage of common... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
It's a lovely story. La is a person who loves music, shares it and, through her kindness and gifts keeps people going during a very sad time. I love the ending.Published 1 month ago by Laura Dyer
Alexander McCall Smith never fails to write a good book. It does not matter which series it is or a one off
like this one. This was a nice story and it was fun to read. Read more
I have read other books by this author, but they never engaged me as this one did. It's a lovely novel about England and the home front during World War II. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kindle Customer
This was an okay book for me. It's just a bit of chick-lit fluff and actually a fast read, though I got bogged down in the middle. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Nancy A
As usual, Smith does now disappoint as he brings his characters to life and gives them heart through the hard things in life. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Jean Gross