The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
What’s it about?
This novel is dedicated to the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The story begins in 1936 when Shostakovich’s first opera has been denounced by Stalin himself. We follow the composer through a life and career in Soviet Russia that is infused with both fear and shame. We come to appreciate both the composer’s brilliance and his fortitude. His inner thoughts ( as imagined by Julian Barnes) give voice to life as an artist in Soviet Russia.
What did it make me think about?
Russia- and all other countries where people live in a perpetual state of fear. How it must change you, your relationships, and the art that is left behind.
Should I read it?
I personally love Julian Barnes writing. Even so, I put this one off for awhile because it sounded uninteresting- a Russian composer... I could not have been more wrong. Who would not love sentences like these, "Art belongs to everybody and nobody. Art belongs to all time and no time. Art belongs to those who create it and those who savor it. Art no more belongs to the People and the Party than it belonged to the aristocracy and the patron. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time." I believe his stories have so much to say. This novel is no exception!
“As for love- not his own awkward stumbling, blurring, annoying expressions of it, but love in general: he had always believed that love, as a force of nature, was indestructible; and that, when threatened, it could be protected, blanketed, swaddled in irony. Now he was less convinced. Tyranny had become so expert at destroying that why should it not destroy love as well, intentionally or not? Tyranny demanded that you love the party, the state, the Great Leader and Helmsman, the people. But individual love- bourgeois and particularistic- distracted from such grand, noble, meaningless, unthinking “loves.” And in these times, people were always in danger of becoming less than fully themselves. If you terrorised them enough, they became something else, something diminished and reduced: mere techniques for survival. And so, it was not just an anxiety, but often a brute fear that he experienced: the fear that love’s last days had come.”
If you like this try-
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
Forty Autumns by Nina Willner
some favorites of the last decade
best of winter 2020
best of summer/fall 2019
best of winter/spring 2019
best of summer/ fall 2018
best of winter/spring 2017-18
best of spring/summer 2017
best of winter
best of summer 2014
last spring favorites
on my nightstand
edge of your seat
― Charles William Eliot
3 to 4- I found some aspect of this book redeeming but would not recommend it.
5 to 6- I really enjoyed something about this book (characters, plot, meaning etc.) but it was uneven. Some aspects were stronger than others.
7 to 8- It was a good book. I liked lots of aspects of this book. I would recommend it.
9 to 10- I was sorry to turn the last page. I highly recommend this book!