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Friday, April 06, 2007

True to Life

"Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" came to an end with an incredibly avant garde story by Murakami in which a speaking ape is the centerpiece. It was pure Murakami, and, for the most part, a wonderful way to end the book.

Even though I haven't posted for a couple of days, I have been reading restlessly since Wednesday. I began a 10 day holiday away from the academy, and I have done nothing but read since. I read Mark Salzman's "The Soloist" in one day and enjoyed it tremendously. I remember picking up this book at a used book sale and thinking it was a bad idea to read a book that was so close to home at the time. I think I've had the book for some three or four years now and finally put it in my reading list. The story is about a cellist (the reason why it is so close to home). Although I never was a child prodigy, some of the early experiences that the narrator goes through early in the book are like a flashback to some of my youth. Unfortunately for the narrator, the amazing virtuosity that he is known for early in the story disappears suddenly, leaving him as a "has-been" in a profession where "come-back" efforts are nearly non-existent. So, having lost his gift and unable to tour the world as a soloist, performing with the world's greatest orchestras, he moves to Southern California where at the age of 20-something he accepts a teaching position at a university.

From here, the narrative takes two very different but widely interesting sub-plots. 1) The narrator is contacted to teach a young prodigy, a nine-year-old virtuoso, a Korean boy named Kyung-hee. 2) The narrator is summoned to jury duty in a murder case involving a Zen student and his master. The action of the novel goes back and forth with the narrator struggling to teach the young boy and balance his role in the jury. Eventually he becomes involved with one of the women in the jury but things go badly (he is, at 34, still a virgin). The story concludes with the narrator finishing his jury duty and finding a path to guide the young Korean boy so as not to have him suffer the same as he did.

There were many parts of this story that reminded me of my four year tenure with the Washington Symphony Orchestra. The principal cellist was like a father to me:

I think that what I miss the most of this time in my life (besides the concerts) was going out with the cello section after the concert Saturday night and having drinks and food and good conversation and all the rest. It was a wonderful time in my life, although I do not regret giving it up for my position at the academy. I enjoy what I do now very much, and the memories from the orchestra are simply too vivid to lose. Back to the Salzman's story, I could definitely relate to the narrator's experience with women throughout the story. He feels that because of his up-bringing, his shyness and the rest that he is doomed to live a single life. He accepts this rather peacefully at the end. For my part, those four years were a dating living hell, but I won't get into it here other than to say again that I don't regret any of it.
I think I have posted this picture to the left before. It was in March 1999. For that concert we had a young virtuoso playing the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2. I fictionalize the story a bit for a short story competition. You can read it HERE. As I read the Salzman book I kept thinking about the young Korean boy and this pianist we had as a soloist that night. It is hard not to believe that something sacred exists when one hears talent at this rate. It is a wonderful experience to see youth dedicated so fully to the one thing they were born to do. I think that Mark Salzman's "The Soloist" is a gem of a book and it took me back to a time in my life when while things were not easy, they certainly seem to be infused with a brighter sense of being.
I am reading a biography of Samuel Beckett as my next read. I hardly know anything about him other than "Waiting for Godot," so it is very nice to actually get to know his previous work and about his friendship with James Joyce.

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2 Comments:

At 5:37 AM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

Hi JCR,
so glad to know that you had a wonderful time with your holiday reading...and yes, gorgeous pics too! :-)

 
At 10:34 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Lovely post. I'll have to look for The Soloist in my next bookstore run. I have heard of the author but never got to read his novels.

 

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