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The Time of Our Singing: A Novel Hardcover – Jan 22 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Jan. 22 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374277826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374277826
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 4.8 x 24.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 998 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #736,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

In some respects, Richard Powers's The Time of Our Singing is just a big, absorbing drama about an American family, with the typical ingredients of an immigrant parent and some social obstacles--in this case, a biracial marriage in the Civil Rights era--to be overcome by the talented children. But Powers's lyrical gifts lift this material far above its familiar subject matter. His descriptions of music alone will transport the reader. The Strom family were raised with this common language: "Our parents' Crazed Quotations game played on the notion that every moment's tune had all history's music box for its counterpoint. On any evening in Hamilton Heights, we could jump from organum to atonality without any hint of all the centuries that had died fiery deaths between them." The central figure of this novel is the dazzling Jonah, who makes a life from singing, and who may be the only person around him who regards his racial heritage as irrelevant to his ambitions. Powers's is such a fertile writer, however, that he can't stay with any single story, but plunges into pages and pages of family and social histories. The result is a rambling, resonant, fearless novel that pulls the reader along in its wake. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

Powers (Plowing the Dark, etc.) has generated considerable excitement as a novelist of ideas, but as a creator of characters, he is on shakier ground. Here he confronts his weaknesses head-on, crafting a hefty family saga that attempts to probe generational conflicts, sibling rivalries and racial identity. The book follows the mixed-race Strom family through much of the 20th century, from 1939 when German-Jewish physicist David Strom meets Delia Daley, a black, classically trained singer from Philadelphia through the 1990s. The couple marries and has three children: eldest son Jonah, a charismatic, egotistical singing prodigy; Joseph, his self-sacrificing accompanist; and Ruth, the rebel of the family, who becomes a militant black activist. There are two separate strands to the story: one is a third-person chronicle of David and Delia's relationship through the 1940s; the other, narrated by Joseph, is about the brothers' education in the nearly all-white world of classical music and their experience of the civil rights movement as the rest of the country grudgingly catches up to the Stroms' radical experiment. Powers's premise is intriguing, and the plot's architecture is impressive, informed by the notion, from physics, of space-time wrinkles and time curves. Missing, however, are the pulse-quickening vintage-Powers moments in which his discussions of technology and science open up profound existential quandaries. Most of the book is taken up with a prolonged, overdetermined and off-key examination of family relationships and identity struggles. Narrator Joseph is supposed to be eclipsed by his brother, but Powers overshoots the mark: for half the book, Joseph is little more than a pair of eyes and ears. Powers's depiction of how public events filter into individual consciousness can also be surprisingly unimaginative; Joseph periodically runs down a list of current events, using stale, iconic imagery ("our hatless boy president plays touch football on the White House lawn"). Powers deserves credit for taking a risk, but his own experiment reveals his startling tone deafness to the subtle inflections of human experience.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest on Jan. 5 2003
Format: Hardcover
Richard Powers is an exceptional writer who follows no one, not even his own single muse, his writing is too varied. He writes like no other author I can think of, his work is unique. I have read all his published work save one, and this is by far the most ambitious in terms of its human element. His are not just characters dealing with a conflict, but people defined by, tortured, terrified and completely lost by the concept of race, and how their own racial blend or puzzle structure, define and are used to define them.
There is no peace
Black and white is not complex enough; the original couple additionally brings the paradox of differing religions to the racial mix and then let these ingredients, that become demons when let loose, to burden their children. The meeting of the couple that catalyzes the tale takes place at a concert at The Lincoln Memorial, located there, for the female singer of color cannot perform elsewhere, a First Lady must step in and do what is right, what everyone else fails to do.
Race trumps love
Classical music, white European music brings this couple together that will start a family of unique and exceptionally gifted children. Yet no amount of talent, no shade of pigmentation however light, allows them the freedom to be judged, as one man who had a dream so badly wanted. A flawless voice cannot be so considered on its own because of the music it sings, when is white not white, one-half, one drop, is there anything that can lay claim to purely white?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. DAVIDSON on April 21 2004
Format: Paperback
All right, I've previously found Richard Powers a bit too cerebral, but I am absolutely in love with this book. Read in pretty much in one sitting. It's a real page turner and a more understated contender for Great Americal novel than (for instance) Delillo's Underworld, which is impressive but not nearly as emotionally engaging as this. This is a must-read. Great NY WAshington Heights-Juilliard scenes (if you ever thought about becoming a professional musician, this is the novel for you), memorable account of Marian Anderson singing in DC, compelling characters and family life. Please get it! It's the weird twin of James Baldwin's "Just Above My Head," for one thing (a great underrated novel of the 1970s), and an interesting sequel to Rebecca West's "The Fountain Overflows." Gripping. Read it. I think it's the best novel published for some time in the USA.
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Format: Paperback
Richard Powers has never been afraid of the big themes, from his 1985 debut, Three Farmers on their Way to a Dance , onwards. In that novel, he extrapolated the first world war from the eponymous photograph in the Sander Gallery, New York; since then he has tackled - and these bare summaries do not begin to do justice to the richness of his imagination - genetics, artificial intelligence, capitalism, the whole corpus of English literature, hostages in Lebanon and virtual reality. And not necessarily in different novels. "Nothing can take place in this century without some coincident event linking it into a conspiratorial whole," he declares in Three Farmers , and although this really is a clever way of letting the novelist slip in through the back door of history before grabbing it by the vitals, he does it very well indeed. In The Time of Our Singing , this orchestration is almost seamless. It's the story of two brothers, Jonah and Joseph, the former a singer and the latter, for most of the novel, his accompanist. Joseph is a good enough accompanist, but Jonah has a voice of extraordinary, arresting beauty: "my brother sings to save the good and make the wicked take their own lives". Or: "like silk on obsidian", or quite a few other remarkable similes that would have exhausted any lesser writer. We get the point fairly early on, but it can't be repeated often enough: Jonah's voice is good to the point of unearthliness.
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By Mary E. Sibley on Jan. 29 2004
Format: Paperback
Joseph accompanies his brother Jonah on the piano. At age 20 Jonah is named America's next voice. Jonah has a three and a half octave voice. Joey feels he is average as a musician and his brother is outstanding, the possessor of an unearthly voice.
The father, David Strom, is a German Jewish physicist. The mother is African American. Jonah attends the Boyleston Academy of Music on a full scholarship. It is now the back story, 1939. Marian Anderson was turned away by the DAR Hall and sings at the Washington Mall. Delia, the mother, is living in her father's house in Philadelphia. She wants to go to Washington to hear Marian Anderson sing. David Strom is present, too, a guest of George Gamow. Strom wanders in the crowd, lost inside a Social Realist drawing.
Jonah went from being homeschooled to the Boyleston Academy in 1952. His brother Joey follows him there the next year. It turns out that Jonah had probably been tormented as the only child of color. Jonah and Joey had to struggle to keep up with their classmates. Jonah becomes friends with an outcast girl in the school, the daughter of professional musicians. She conveys to Jonah much musical lore and theory.
Jonah's boy soprano voice will change. His voice breaks at the Berkshire Festival in Orff's CARMINA BURANA. He ends the piece masterfully, a tenor. Delia's father trained to be a physician at Howard. The author recounts the story of Emmett Till. His body goes north by train.
Jonah's laugh at age 14 had no bitter highlights yet. The father of Jonas and Joey travels to Boston to tell them their mother is dead. The furnace in their house exploded. Later Jonah and Joey attend Julliard. When they were children their grandfather and father became estranged over the atom bomb and issues of race.
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