Richard Powers – The Time of our Singing

Originally this book was part of my one university class “Literature and Music” but we also had 2 other books and never got to read this one. To me this one seemed to be the most interesting book of the 3, so I decided to read it nevertheless. And I do not regret it.

First of all, if you are not a native speaker of English you should be really sure that your English is quite good if you are planning on reading this book in English because in my opinion it was not that easy to read. And I read a lot in English.

And another warning: This book is totally heartbreaking. If you are looking for a somewhat happy story with a real happy ending you should think again before reading this book. But also, I think this book is really good.

So, here is my review:

During a concert of the black singer Marian Anderson Delia Daley and David Strom meet. She is black, dreaming of a career as a singer, he is white, a physicist, a Jew who as fled from Germany. And they meet during times when black and white people are not supposed to interact too much, leave alone to be friends or even more. Nevertheless they marry and have 3 chilren, Jonah, Joseph and Ruth. They all, especially Jonah has a great musical talent and the parents do everything to support it. Also they try to raise their children “beyond race”, which is not easy during these times. Which school takes a mixed-race kid? And where do the children belong? Are they black or white? Both ethnic groups do not want to take them, they are a curiousity and somehow have to find their place in life.

The book tells more or less 2 stories: The earlier story of Delia Daley up to the first years with David Strom and the break with her family and then the story of the children, mostly of Jonah. The story is told from the point of view of the younger brother, Joseph, who does everything for his elder brother’s career and seems to forget to live his own life.

The book deals with many topics: There is, first of all, of course the conflict of race. Black and white.. and the mixed race – which is seen as a huge crime. All the riots, civil rights, activism, history of America… The family conflict. Especially Ruth has problems dealing with “what their parents did to them” by marrying and making mixed children. Also, partly, the question of war and humanity –  David Strom is involved in the construction of the nuclear bomb which leads to more conflicts when America drops not only one but 2 of these bombs. And then there is music, becoming a musician and the whole world of classical music which is seen as “white music”, but some non-whites do have the chance to practice it nevertheless. And how music seems to be above racism at first glance but only until you take a closer look.

I liked the book a lot, even though almost everything about this story is sad. The break of the family, Delia Daley’s story, David Strom’s story, Ruth’s story and Joseph’s. Only Jonah seems to be a bit different, of course, since this book is not told from his perspective but from Joseph’s who is totally devoted to Jonah, we don’t get too much insight into him. But from the way he is described he seems to live in his own world and he does not seem to take things too seriously. For me, he was the least likable character. Somewhat arrogant and careless he seemed to use the love of his brother Joseph too much, always expecting him to be there and never really paying attention to Joseph’s own needs. He never really seems to live in the real world.

To sum it up, I can really recommend this book. If you are at least a bit interested in more recent American history and music this is right for your. It has a somewhat good or satisfying ending, but I would not exaclty call it a happy ending.

 

 

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