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The Time of Our Singing

The Time of Our Singing

Book - 2003
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A magnificent, multifaceted novel about a supremely gifted - and divided - family, set against the backdrop of postwar America On Easter day, 1939, at Marian Anderson's epochal concert on the Washington Mall, David Strom, a German Jewish émigré scientist, meets Delia Daley, a young Philadelphia Negro studying to be a singer. Their mutual love of music draws them together, and - against all odds and better judgment - they marry. They vow to raise their children beyond time, beyond identity, steeped in song. But their three children must survive America's brutal here and now. Jonah, Joseph, and Ruth growup during the Civil Rights era, come of age in the violent 1960s, and live out adulthood in the racially retrenched late century. Jonah, the eldest, "whose voice could make heads of state repent," follows a life in his parents' beloved classical music. Ruth, the youngest, chooses a militant activism and repudiates the white culture her brother represents. Joseph, the middle child and the narrator of this generational tale, struggles to remain connected to them both. The Time of Our Singing is a story of self-invention, allegiance, race, cultural ownership, the compromised power of music, and the tangled loops of time that rewrite all belonging.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780374277826
Characteristics: 631 p. ; 25 cm


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Jan 22, 2019

In spite of the things that are wrong with this book (and there are many) it remains the best thing I've read in several years. At 630 pages, it's far too long; it's self-indulgent — a talented writer swept up in the sheer exuberance of his own lyricism; it's peppered with passages in German, mostly not translated, surely a problem for some readers; it risks leaving many of us lost in a sea of musical technicalities and esoteric discussions of astrophysics or numbing our brains with an exploration of the nature of time. Add to that the fact that much of it centers upon the American Civil Rights struggle, a topic I had promised myself never to read about again.
And yet: The book took over my life for the past 10 days. I simply could not put it aside. This is a writer who is able to make us ignore all of those difficulties he lays before us and just go along for the ride. Despite our knowing this is unlikely to end well, we are compelled to join Delia, David and their conflicted family on their journey of self-discovery and heartbreak as they face the question that defines their lives" "The bird and the fish may fall in love but where will they build their nest?"
There is so much more I could say about it but nothing I write could capture the humanity, and especially the rhythm of the book. For example, while reading a passage near the end, depicting a primary school concert, I found myself twitching in my seat, tapping my feet to the cadence of children singing and playing crude or improvised instruments in polyphonic urban exuberance. In an earlier commentary, I noted that for me, music is an emotional experience precipitated by listening to it and experiencing the drama of a live performance -- the thrill of a bold musician "performing without a net" if you get my meaning; the spice of being in the moment, when anything may happen. I doubted if Powers would be able to capture that experience, one that is damnably difficult to pull off. In places, he has done so.

Dec 17, 2014

Richard Powers is a genius. Here he tackles a four-part theme: the beauty and power of music, the intransigence and tragedy of racism, the strength and faultlines of family, and the mystery of time and causation. It all fits together in beautiful harmony.


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