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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
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.
I learned a lot about segregation in the 50's and 60's and about music. It is very well written and easy to read.Published on Jan. 27 2013 by Andre Lefebvre
Product was in great shape, a great price and the service was fast and friendly. I had no compaints! Read morePublished on June 28 2011 by jw
The government should immediately construct a time-status machine and put Richard Powers in it so that he can continue writing novels for eternity. Read morePublished on May 15 2004 by sbissell3
I've enjoyed several of Richard Powers' books, but this one was like reading a book written exclusively for me. Read morePublished on May 5 2004
This is a hard book to review. I've been a fan of Powers' novels since first reading The Goldbug Variations about 15 years ago, and have read everything he's written since then. Read morePublished on March 27 2004 by Kirk McElhearn
I absolutely loved this book. I had never read any of Powers's previous work, and I'm not sure I would have picked this one up on my own, but a friend gave it to me. Read morePublished on Jan. 20 2004 by bookgirl3175
This book fell off the library shelves into my hands without my having any previous knowledge of Powers' writing. Read morePublished on Jan. 12 2004
This sprawling family drama weaves together seemingly disparate elements as music, physics, and race relations in mid-20th-century America. Read morePublished on Sept. 25 2003 by debvh
Smart and thought-provoking history of the past sixty years from the perspective of an intermarried family, using singing as the motif for their triumphs and tragedies. Read morePublished on June 18 2003