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The Time of Our Singing
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About the Author

Richard Powers has been the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award and a MacArthur Fellowship. He is the author of several novels, including Plowing the Dark, Gain, and Galatea 2.2. He lives in Illinois.

Reviews

Delia Daley met David Strom on Easter Sunday in Washington, DC, in 1939 at a concert by Marion Anderson held outside the Lincoln Memorial after the DAR refused to let her perform indoors. And so the talented black woman from Philadelphia and the German Jewish refugee physicist and teacher from Columbia University fall in love and create a universe that parallels the history of time, music, and civil rights. Powers (Plowing the Dark) moves between present and past, with sections of the novel, not really chapters, alternating between the third person and a first-person account narrated by the Stroms' middle child and younger son, Joseph. While Delia is refused a prestigious musical education because of her race, Einstein himself suggests that the couple's elder son, Jonah, take singing lessons to further his obvious talent. Meanwhile, daughter Ruth questions her mixed heritage, and her actions mirror the growth of black militancy throughout the country as civil rights takes hold. The title of this book pervades each page, with the structure of time and the discipline of singing woven throughout. The language is dense, often difficult; this reviewer, who takes singing lessons, found the descriptions of technique mesmerizing but elusive. Did I mention physics? Powers's work is undoubtedly complex, but his stories are compelling, lyrical, and timeless. Readers who invest the time in this lengthy novel will be rewarded. Recommended for all literary fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/02.]-Bette-Lee Fox, "Library Journal" Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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. (Jan. 22, 2003) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"A great hurtle of a book, telling several powerful stories at once...An astonishing performance. . . a prodigious, illuminating and exhilarating run." --The New York Times

"Ingenious...A heady, panoramic novel, scored, like so much of Powers's work, for full orchestra. . .One of our most lavishly gifted writers." --The New Yorker

"Richard Powers is a wonder. . .[The Time of Our Singing] is beautifully, meticulously crafted." --The New York Observer

"I can think of no American novelist of his generation who makes a stronger [case]--that the writing of novels is a heroic enterprise, and perhaps even a matter of life and death." --A. O. Scott, The New York Review of Books

"With his characteristic mastery of structure and language, Powers has orchestrated a story that. . .plays with bravura to the end." --People

"This is a novel God might relish and call enriching. Powers' heart-cry should win big prizes." --The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Powers is a genuine artist, a thinker of rare synthetic gifts, maybe the only writer working...who can render the intricate dazzle of it all and at the same time plumb its philosophical implications." --Sven Birkerts, Esquire

"One of the best novels ever written about race in America...one of the best written about the joys of music. . .A major novel, harrowing and haunting in blending such intense beauty and such great sorrow into one great, unforgettable American symphony." --Newsday

"A bold and vibrant set of variations on the themes of music, race and time. . . It is hard to think of another novel since Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus that uses music so effectively and with such authority." --Chicago Tribune

"The Time of Our Singing is an astonishment but not a surprise...Richard Powers has been astounding us almost every other year since 1985...We can no longer be surprised about whatever he dares to think in ink about." --Harper's Magazine

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