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Goldberg: Variations

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Like Johann Sebastian Bach's renowned Goldberg Variations, Josipovici's (humanities, Univ. of Sussex; The Singer on the Shore) novel, comprising 30 interrelated stories based on a seemingly facile plot, is ambitious and serious. A Jewish novelist and poet is commissioned to read to a wealthy recluse who cannot sleep. Just as a young orphan named Goldberg played Bach's Variations for insomniac Count Keyserlingk many years ago, so is our modern-day Goldberg asked to write something original that will cure his well-paying host's insomnia. This request thoroughly tests Goldberg as he searches for suitable topics about which to write. Many of the stories constituting this novel are actually essays dealing with philosophical and literary topics. Explored and dissected, e.g., are John Donne's poetry, the Neolithic community of Skara Brae, love and lust, Odysseus and Homer, Paul Klee's Wander-Artist (the painting that adorns the cover), and Bach's The Art of the Fugue. This brilliantly conceived and executed novel is a brainteaser; its eclectic and varied scope will lead thoughtful readers to further hours of study and reflection (a guide is available for reading group discussions). Recommended for larger public libraries as well as academic settings.-Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

The U.K.-based Josipovici (Only Joking) offers an intriguing textual fugue on J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations. That great work was published in 1741 and was possibly written for one Count Keyserlingk, whose personal musician may have been a man named Goldberg. In Josipovici's version, set in 1800, a German-Jewish writer named Samuel Goldberg is hired to read to the rich insomniac Tobias Westfield. Westfield claims to have read everything that has been written, so Goldberg is compelled to invent a story nightly: this book. In one piece, Goldberg recounts his experiences speculating on philosophy in the court of the local German king. In another, Goldberg's wife writes a first-person account of what it is like to be Mrs. Goldberg-or is Goldberg telling Westfield what his wife's innermost thoughts might be? Another piece recounts the breakup of a middle-aged British writer and his wife while on holiday in Switzerland-in the late 20th or early 21st century. Round and round goes the fugue (there are 30 "variations," as in the Bach) riffing backward and forward. It's a winning puzzle book ? la Michael Frayn, best read as an homage to Bach's masterpiece's thick history. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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