The Bells [NOOK Book]

Overview

I grew up as the son of a man who could not possibly have been my father. Though there was never any doubt that my seed had come from another man, Moses Froben, Lo Svizzero, called me “son.” And I called him “father.” On the rare occasions when someone dared to ask for clarification, he simply laughed as though the questioner were obtuse. “Of course he’s not my son!” he would say. “Don’t be ridiculous.” 

But whenever I myself gained the ...
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The Bells

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Overview

I grew up as the son of a man who could not possibly have been my father. Though there was never any doubt that my seed had come from another man, Moses Froben, Lo Svizzero, called me “son.” And I called him “father.” On the rare occasions when someone dared to ask for clarification, he simply laughed as though the questioner were obtuse. “Of course he’s not my son!” he would say. “Don’t be ridiculous.” 

But whenever I myself gained the courage to ask him further of our past, he just looked sadly at me. “Please, Nicolai,” he would say after a moment, as though we had made a pact I had forgotten. With time, I came to understand I would never know the secrets of my birth, for my father was the only one who knew these secrets, and he would take them to his grave.

 
The celebrated opera singer Lo Svizzero was born in a belfry high in the Swiss Alps where his mother served as the keeper of the loudest and most beautiful bells in the land. Shaped by the bells’ glorious music, as a boy he possessed an extraordinary gift for sound. But when his preternatural hearing was discovered—along with its power to expose the sins of the church—young Moses Froben was cast out of his village with only his ears to guide him in a world fraught with danger.
 
Rescued from certain death by two traveling monks, he finds refuge at the vast and powerful Abbey of St. Gall. There, his ears lead him through the ancient stone hallways and past the monks’ cells into the choir, where he aches to join the singers in their strange and enchanting song. Suddenly Moses knows his true gift, his purpose. Like his mother’s bells, he rings with sound and soon, he becomes the protégé of the Abbey’s brilliant yet repulsive choirmaster, Ulrich.
 
But it is this gift that will cause Moses’ greatest misfortune: determined to preserve his brilliant pupil’s voice, Ulrich has Moses castrated. Now a young man, he will forever sing with the exquisite voice of an angel—a musico—yet castration is an abomination in the Swiss Confederation, and so he must hide his shameful condition from his friends and even from the girl he has come to love. When his saviors are exiled and his beloved leaves St. Gall for an arranged marriage in Vienna, he decides he can deny the truth no longer and he follows her—to sumptuous Vienna, to the former monks who saved his life, to an apprenticeship at one of Europe’s greatest theaters, and to the premiere of one of history’s most beloved operas.
 
In this confessional letter to his son, Moses recounts how his gift for sound led him on an astonishing journey to Europe’s celebrated opera houses and reveals the secret that has long shadowed his fame: How did Moses Froben, world renowned musico, come to raise a son who by all rights he never could have sired?
 
Like the voice of Lo Svizzero, The Bells is a sublime debut novel that rings with passion, courage, and beauty.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Nancy Robertson
One of the most difficult feats Harvell accomplishes in The Bells is capturing the physical experience of music. It warms necks and backs, resonates in jaws and temples, and rings in chests and legs. Music fights with death, seduces a woman, guides a thief and ultimately triumphs in love. Harvell has written an entertaining and eye-opening aria of a book.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Chronicling the journey of 18th-century singer Moses Froben from his Swiss village to Vienna, this debut novel strikes many melodramatic notes in an overwrought plot; squalor, beauty, horror, forbidden love, tragedy, and triumph splash broadly, sometimes artfully, but often with operatic excess. Moses, born to a deaf-mute in a belfry, possesses a unique bond to music. Cast from his home, he joins a choir, discovering that he can mold "that ocean of sound... into something beautiful." Harvell, however, shows his own limitations when he seeks to describe the resonance of music. When Moses says, "I wished I could dissolve into sound," the reader shares his frustration. A tormented choirmaster castrates Moses to preserve his beautiful voice, transforming him into a "musico," a soprano whose voice never deepens, and who will never be a man. His ability to sound like an angel brings him into contact with a wealthy family, sparking an impossible love affair with a beautiful but crippled woman. Moses's ardor impels him to Vienna and its vibrant opera scene, where his brief appearance on stage allows love to triumph before, unsurprisingly, tragedy brings down the curtain. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Indie Next List, October 2010

"THE BELLS does for the ears what Perfume did for the nose. A novel to engage the senses as well as tickle the mind."
—Sarah Dunant, international bestselling author of Sacred Hearts 

"Harvell has written an entertaining and eye-opening aria of a book." 
Washington Post

"Richard Harvell's first novel is a marvel of sound woven through the tale of an extraordinary life."
Fredericksburg Freelance Star

"When I look at my copy of The Bells sitting in front of me, I cannot believe it lies there immobile and lifeless...During the time I spent entranced with this story, my body rang like the bells within its pages...Harvell’s magical prose gives sound to Moses’ life: the bells, the arias, and the uneven breath of true love."
Historical Novels Review

"Harvell has fashioned an engrossing first novel ringing with sounds; a musical and literary treat."
Booklist

"Harvell's debut is saturated with sound...A poignant and acutely told storey of the human spirit."
Library Journal

“Astonishing in its originality, epic in its scope, luminous in its richness, The Bells is a novel to be savored page by glorious page.”
—Cathy Marie Buchanan, New York Times bestselling author of The Day the Falls Stood Still
 
“I was mesmerized from first page to the last by this haunting and seductive novel. Long after I finished, the characters and their heartbreaking tale of love, loss, and obsession resonated with me still. Readers, here is a book you’ll find impossible to resist. Bravo andencore!”               
—M.J. Rose, international bestselling author of The Reincarnationist

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307590541
  • Publisher: Crown/Archetype
  • Publication date: 9/14/2010
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 197,074
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

RICHARD HARVELL was born in New Hampshire and studied English literature at Dartmouth College. He lives in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife and children. This is his first novel.
 


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

A Note to the Reader

I grew up as the son of a man who could not possibly have been my father. Though there was never any doubt that my seed had come from another man, Moses Froben, Lo Svizzero, called me “son.” And I
called him “father.” On the rare occasions when someone dared to ask for clarifi cation, he simply laughed as though the questioner were being obtuse. “Of course he’s not my son!” he would say. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

But whenever I myself gained the courage to ask him further of our past, he just looked at me sadly. “Please, Nicolai,” he would say after a moment, as though we had made a pact I had forgotten. With time, I came to understand I would never know the secrets of my birth, for my father was the only one who knew these secrets, and he would take them to his grave.

This aside, no child could have wished for more. I accompanied him from Venice to Naples and, fi nally, here, to London. Indeed, I
rarely left his side until I entered Oxford. Even after that, as I began my own, unrelated, career, at no time were we ever more than two months absent from each other’s company. I heard him sing in
Eu rope’s greatest opera houses. I sat beside him in his carriage as mobs of admirers ran alongside and begged him to grace them with a smile. Through all of this, I never knew anything of the poor Moses
Froben, but only of the renowned Lo Svizzero, who could make ladies swoon with a mere wave of his hand, who could bring an audience to tears with his voice.

And so you can imagine my surprise, a week after my father’s death last spring, to fi nd among his things this stack of papers. And more, to fi nd within them all I had sought to know: of my father’s birth and mine; of the origin of my name; of my mother; and of the crime that had kept my father silent.

Though he appears to have had me in mind as his reader, I cannot believe he did not wish these words for other eyes as well. This was a singer, remember, who practiced with an open window, so any man or woman passing on the street would have the chance to hear an angel sing.

Nicolai Froben
London, October 6, 1806

ACT ONE

I.

First, there were the bells. Three of them, cast from warped shovels,
rakes, and hoes, cracked cauldrons, dulled ploughshares, one rusted stove, and, melted into each, a single golden coin. They were rough and black except along their silvery lips, where my mother’s mallets had struck a million strokes. She was small enough to dance beneath them in the belfry. When she swung, her feet leapt from the polished wooden planks, so that when the mallet met the bell, it rang from the bell’s crown to the tips of my mother’s pointed toes.

They were the Loudest Bells on Earth, all the Urners said, and though now I know a louder one, their place high above the Uri Valley made them very loud indeed. The peal could be heard from the waters of Lake Lucerne to the snows of the Gotthard Pass. The ringing greeted traders come from Italy. Columns of Swiss soldiers pressed their palms against their ears as they marched the Uri Road. When the bells began to sound, teams of oxen refused to move. Even the fattest men lost the urge to eat, from the quivering of their bowels. The cows that grazed the nearby pastures were all long since deaf. Even the youn gest herders had the dull ears of old men, though they hid in their huts morning, noon, and night when my mother rang her bells.

I was born in that belfry, above the tiny church. There I was nursed. When it was warm enough, there we slept. Whenever my mother did not swing her mallets, we huddled beneath the bells, the four walls of the belfry open to the world. She sheltered me from the wind and stroked my brow. Though she never spoke a word to me,
nor I to her, she watched my mouth as I babbled infant sounds. She tickled me so I would laugh. When I learned to crawl, she held my foot so I did not creep off the edge and fall to my death on the jutting rocks below. She helped me stand. I held a fi nger in each fi st, and she led me round and round, past each edge a hundred times a day. In terms of space, our belfry was a tiny world— most would have thought it a prison for a child. But in terms of sound, it was the most massive home on earth. For every sound ever made was trapped in the metal of those bells, and the instant my mother struck them, she released their beauty to the world. So many ears heard the thunderous pealing echo through the mountains. They hated it; or were inspired by its might; or were entranced until they stared blindly into space; or cried as the vibrations shook their sadness out. But they did not fi nd it beautiful. They could not. The beauty of the pealing was reserved for my mother, and for me, alone.

I wish that were the beginning: my mother and those bells, the Eve and Adam of my voice, my joys, and my sorrows. But of course that is not true. I have a father; my mother had one as well. And the bells,
too; they had a father. Theirs was Richard Kilchmar, who, one night in 1725, tottered on a table, so drunk he saw two moons instead of one.

He shut one eye and squished the other so the two moons resolved into a single fuzzy orb. He looked about: Two hundred men fi lled Altdorf’s square, in a town that was, and was proud to be, at the very center of the Swiss Confederation. These men were celebrating the harvest, and the coronation of the new pope, and the warm summer night. Two hundred men ankle- deep in piss- soaked mud. Two hundred men with mugs of acrid Schnapps burned from Uri pears.
Two hundred men as drunk as Richard Kilchmar.

“Quiet!” he yelled into the night, which seemed as warm and clear to him as the thoughts within his head. “I will speak!”
“Speak!” they yelled.

They were quiet. High above, the Alps shone in the moonlight like teeth in black, rotting gums.

“Protestants are dogs!” he yelled, raised his mug, and nearly stumbled off the table. They cheered and cursed the dogs in Zu rich,
who were rich. They cursed the dogs in Bern, who had guns and an army that could climb the mountains and conquer Uri if they wished.
They cursed the dogs in German lands farther north, who had never heard of Uri. They cursed the dogs for hating music, for defaming
Mary, for wishing to rewrite the Holy Book.

These curses, two hundred years dull in the capitals of Eu rope,
pierced Kilchmar’s heart. They brought tears to his eyes— these men before him were his brothers! But what could he reply? What could he promise them? So little. He could not build them a fort with cannons.
He was one of Uri’s richest men, but still, he could not afford an army. He could not soothe them with his wisdom, for he was not a man of words.

Then they all heard it, the answer to his silent plea. A ringing that made them raise their bleary eyes toward heaven. Someone had climbed the church’s belfry and tolled the church’s bell. It was the most beautiful, heartaching sound Richard Kilchmar had ever heard.
It resounded off the houses. It echoed off the mountains. The peal tickled his swollen belly. When the ringing ceased, the silence was as warm and wet as the tears Kilchmar rubbed from out his eyes.

He nodded at the crowd. Two hundred heads nodded back at him.

“I will give you bells,” he whispered. He sloshed his drink at the midnight sky. His voice rose to a shout. “I will build a church to house them, high up in the mountains, so the ringing echoes to every inch of Uri soil! They will be the Loudest and Most Beautiful Bells Ever!”
They cheered even more loudly now than they had before. He raised his arms in triumph. Schnapps washed his brow. Then he and every man plunged their eyes into the bottom of their mugs and drank them empty, sealing Kilchmar’s pledge.

As he drank the fi nal drop, Kilchmar stumbled back, tripped,
and fell. He spent the rest of the night lying in the mud, dreaming of his bells.

He awoke to a circle of blue sky ringed by twenty reverent faces.
“Lead us!” they implored him.

Their veneration seemed to lift him to his feet, and after six or eight swigs from their fl asks, he felt more weightless still. Soon he found himself on his horse leading a pro cession: fi fty horses; several carts fi lled with women; children and dogs darting through the grasses. Where to lead them he did not know, for until that day he’d found the mountains menacing and hostile. But now he led them up the Uri Road toward Italy, toward the pope, toward snowfi elds glittering in the sun, and then, when inspiration took him, turned off and began to climb.

Up and up they went, almost to the cliffs and snow. Kilchmar now led fi ve hundred Urners, and they followed him until they reached a rocky promontory and beheld the valley stretched before them, the river Reuss a thin white thread stitching it together.

“Here,” he whispered. “Here.”

“Here,” they echoed. “Here.”

They turned then to regard the tiny village just below them, a mere jumble of squalid houses. The villagers and their scrawny cows stared back in awe at the assemblage on the rocky hill.

This tiny, starved village I write of is Nebelmatt. In this village I
was born (may it burn to the ground and be covered by an avalanche).
Kilchmar’s church was completed in 1727, built of only Uri sweat and
Uri stone, so that, in the winter months, no matter how much wood was wasted in the stove, the church remained as cold as the mountain upon which it was built. It was a stocky church, shaped something like a boot. The bishop was petitioned for a priest well suited to the frigid and lonesome aspects of the post. His reply came a few days later in the form of a young priest scowling at Kilchmar’s door— a learned father
Karl Victor Vonderach. “Just the man,” read the bishop’s letter, “for a posting on a cold, distant mountain. Do not send him back.”

Now the church had a master, twelve rustic pews, and a roof that kept out a good deal of the rain, but it still did not have what Kilchmar had promised them. It did not have its bells. And so Kilchmar packed his cart, kissed his wife, and said he would undertake an expedition to St. Gall to fi nd the greatest bell maker in the Catholic world. He rumbled off northward to patriotic cries, and was never seen in Uri again.

The building of the church had ruined him.

And so, one year after the last slate had been laid on its roof, the church built to house the Loudest and Most Beautiful Bells Ever did not even have a cowbell hanging in its belfry.

Urners are a proud and resourceful folk. How hard can it be to make a bell?
they thought. Clay molds, some molten metal, some beams on which to hang the fi nished bells— nothing more. Perhaps God had sent them Kilchmar only to set them on their way.

God needs your iron, went the call. Bring Him your copper and your tin.

Rusted shovels, broken hoes, corroded knives, cracked cauldrons—
all of these were thrown into a pile that soon towered over Altdorf’s square on the very spot where Kilchmar had sealed his pledge three years before. Crowds cheered every new donation. One man lugged the stove that should have kept him warm that winter. God bless her, was the murmur when an old widow tossed in her jewelry. Tears fl owed when the three best families gathered to contribute three golden coins. Ten oxcarts were needed to transport the metal to the village.
The villagers, though they had little metal of their own to offer,
would not be outdone. As they minded the makeshift smelter for nine days and nights, they contributed what ever Schnapps remained in their fl asks at daybreak, plus a full set of wolf’s teeth, a carved ibex horn, and a dusty chunk of quartz.

Twelve men were scarred for life with burns the day they poured the glowing soup into the molds. The fi rst bell was as round as a fat turkey, the second, large enough to hide a small goat beneath it, and the third, the extraordinary third bell, was as high as a man and took sixteen horses to hoist into the belfry.

All of Uri gathered on the hill below the church to hear the bells ring for the fi rst time. When all was set, the crowd turned their reverent eyes to Father Karl Victor Vonderach. He stared back at them as if they were merely a fl ock of sheep.

“A blessing, Father?” one woman whispered. “Would you bless our bells?”

He rubbed his temples and then stepped before the crowd. He bowed his head, and everyone else did the same. “Heavenly Father,”
he croaked through the spittle gathered in his throat. “Bless these bells that You have—” He sniffed and looked around him, and then glanced down at his shoe, which rested in a moist cake of dung.
“Damn them all,” he muttered. He stalked back through the crowd.
They watched his form until it vanished into his house, which had glass in its windows, but no slates yet on its roof.

Then the silent crowd turned to watch seven of Kilchmar’s cousins march resolutely into the church— one to ring the smallest, two the middle, and four the largest bell. Many in the crowd held their breath as, in the belfry, the three great bells began to rock.
And then the Loudest and Most Beautiful Bells Ever began to ring.

The mountain air shuddered. The pealing fl ooded the valley. It was as shrill as a rusty hinge and as rumbling as an avalanche and as piercing as a scream and as soothing as a mother’s whisper. Every person cried out and fl inched and threw his hands over his ears.
They stumbled back. Father Karl Victor’s windows cracked. Teeth were clenched so hard they chipped. Ear drums burst. A cow, two goats,
and one woman felt the sudden pangs of labor.

When the echoes from the distant peaks fi nally faded, there was silence. Every person stared at the church as if it might collapse. Then the door burst open and the Kilchmar cousins poured out, their palms held to their ruined ears. They faced the crowd like thieves caught with trea sure in their stockings.

Then the cheering began. Hands rose toward heaven. Fists shook. Tears fl owed. They had done it! The Loudest Bells Ever had been rung!

God’s kingdom on earth was safe!

The crowd retreated slowly down the hill. When someone yelled,
“Ring them again!” there was a collective cringe, and soon began a stampede— men, women, children, dogs, and cows ran, slid, rolled down the muddy hill and hid behind the decrepit houses as if trying to outrun an avalanche. Then there was silence. Several heads peered around the houses and toward the church. The Kilchmar cousins were nowhere to be found. Indeed, soon there was no one within two hundred paces of that church. There was no one brave enough to ring the bells again.

Or was there? Whispers fi lled the air. Children pointed at a brown smudge moving lightly up the hill, like a knot of hay, blown by a gentle wind. A person? No, not a person. A child— a little girl— in dirty rags.

It so happened that this village possessed, among its trea sures, a deaf idiot girl. She was wont to stare down the villagers with a haunting glare, as though she knew the sins they fought to hide, and so they drove her off with buckets of dirty wash water whenever she came near. This deaf child was staring at the belfry as she climbed the hill,
for she, too, had heard the bells, not in her vacant ears, but as we hear holiness: a vibration in the gut.

They all watched her climb, knowing that God had sent this idiot girl to them, just as God had sent them Kilchmar, had sent them the stone to build this church, and the metal to cast the bells.
She looked upward at the belfry as though she wished that she could fly.

“Go,” they whispered. “Go.”

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Harvell begins his novel with a letter from the narrator’s son Nicolai, in which we learn a great deal, including that Nicolai never knew his mother and that in 1806 Moses is a famous singer. How does this affect our experience of the novel? How would the novel be different with these two pages torn out?

2. Moses’ years at the Abbey of St. Gall are tumultuous and fraught with pain. But would you say he wishes Nicolai had never brought him there? What does he gain from the abbot and abbey? Aside from the obvious in his castration, what does he lose?

3. Moses calls Ulrich “the architect of my tragedy” (208). And yet, his life would have been so different had he never been castrated—we certainly would not be reading the story of this famous singer. Is his regret complete? Does he blame Ulrich? How would his life have been different had he not been castrated?

4. In an interview, Richard Harvell says, “I first planned Nicolai and Remus, as two cruel monks, and then, as I wrote, they just wouldn’t be mean, no matter what I tried. I had to make them good. I am very thankful for that.” Why are Remus and Nicolai so important to Moses’ story? Why do you think Harvell is so thankful that they are not ‘mean’?

5. “This is not magic,” Harvell writes (14). “He cannot hear through mountains or to the other side of the earth. This is merely selection. The selection of sounds, the dissection of sounds, is something he can do like no other. This his mother and her bells have gifted him.” How would you describe Moses extraordinary hearing ability? Is this magic? How does Moses’ hearing influence his destiny?

6. While Harvell uses many visual images in the book, there are many descriptive passages relying on sound. “The one-eyed idiot’s howling, the rattle of the coppers in the leper’s wooden bowl, the creak of the warped wagon wheel, the hissing of a black cat plucked of half its fur by some disease” (217). How does description through sound add to the novel?

7. Gaetano Guadagni is one of the many historical figures in the novel. Is he a villain, or is he, as he always claims to be, Moses’ “fratello” (brother)?

8. One reviewer claimed that The Bells “earns its operatic tone” (Kirkus Reviews). What might be meant by ‘operatic tone’? In what other ways is the novel like an opera?

9. The narration is told in the first person, by the mature Moses, but told through the eyes of a child and, later, a young castrato. How is the novel influenced by the two perspectives? When does it swerve toward one or the other?

10. “I promise you as your faithful witness,” Moses swears (page 14). But does Moses always tell the complete, unbiased truth? Here is one example when his bias leaks through: “In this village I was born (may it burn to the ground and be covered by an avalanche)” (page 6). Where else does this happen?

11. The novel is clearly inspired by the Orpheus myth. How is Moses’ and Amalia’s love story like the Orpheus myth and how is it different?

12. The child Nicolai was destined for great fortune as a Riecher. So why does Moses kidnap his “son”? Should we blame him for this decision?

13. In his nocturnal wanderings in St. Gall, Moses understands that he has traded the ability to love, and to be loved, for the ability to sing like an angel. “All at once, the musico’s exchange made sense. We had given up this song of union for a song that we must sing alone” (page 163). How does singing replace love? And how does it not?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 31 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(20)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Good for a movie!

    Well written book, good development of characters, the story is easy to follow. I had read several books of Castrati in Opera, and considered this one to be a great historical-fiction of that bygone era. Great addition to my library.
    This story could make a very interesting film.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 1, 2013

    Well written historical novel

    Well-written with good character development and historical accuracy as to the period. Interesting regarding the castrati role. Piqued my interest in that subject.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2012

    Good...

    I found this to be a good read. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 22, 2011

    Highly Recommend

    It's a good read. Put me in mind of a fairy tale. Didn't think I was going to like this book club selection, but I did very much. Enjoy!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 9, 2011

    Enjoyable book

    Well written, enjoyable book. Interesting, unusual subject gives you a glimpse into historical realities largey ignored. A good read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Captivating and tragic story

    Moses' mother grew up on the outskirts of the village, an outcast. Deaf from birth, she was presumed to be an idiot and insane. Filthy and unwashed, no one wanted her around, and they would beat her and chase her away. She had a baby, unnamed since she was unable to speak a name, but she was a good mother and did her best by him as they scavenged for their survival, and she raised Moses in the belfry with the church bells. She loved the bells, the vibrational tones of which caressed her body in a hug when no one else would.

    Moses, born unnamed, does not acquire his name until later in life. He spends much of his childhood in a church belfry where his mother plays the bells. Due to her deafness, his mother can tolerate the sound of the bells, which is so loud that it will burst the ear drums of the rest of the villagers if they get too close. However, having been raised in the belfry, Moses is immune to the effects of the bells. Where his mother lived in a world of silence, Moses lives immersed in a world of sound.

    There is an innocence to Moses-- a purity. Moses loses his mother and is taken in at a monastery as a young boy. The monastery is run by an abbot by the name of Staudach. A stern disciplinarian, his heart is usually in the right place, but often he goes about it the wrong way.

    Moses' best friends are two monks. Nicolai is a large light-hearted, generally jovial monk who has a liking for wine (think "Friar Tuck" from Robin Hood), but he can be fierce and forthright when he feels pushed to it. Nicolai becomes something of a father to Moses, and even gives him his name.

    Nicolai's best friend is Remus- a bookish monk who is a quiet loner. A peaceful man, he boasts a hidden strength.

    Moses is given into the care of choir leader Uhlrich, the creepy old man of the story. Even though his "lust" for Moses seems to be musical rather than sexual (as he instead lusts after the voice of Moses), he is a creepy, lascivious old man.

    While at the monastery, Moses meets and befriends Amalia, daughter of the town's wealthiest family. Spirited and spunky, passionate and idealistic, early on in their relationship, Amalia keeps Moses guessing, never quite sure where he stands with her.

    This was a very moving story. I often found myself moved to tears, distraught and frustrated. Unfortunately there weren't many happy moments to make me smile and fill me with joy, as much of the book was quite tragic, but it was moving nonetheless.

    Lovely prose and lyrical descriptions, yet totally "approachable" writing style. A captivating story, fully-fleshed out characters, and unusual subject matter carried me through to the end. Strongly recommended!

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  • Posted June 26, 2011

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    This is an engaging historical "biographical" fiction

    In the Uri Valley in the Swiss Alps, Moses Froben was born in the belfry of a church. His deaf mom Adelheid rang the three loud bells that she could not hear. He was raised in that belfry with love and learned to listen to people by the sounds they make. The heartbeat of his mute mom would rise when she was excited. Moses listens while he wandered the village but all thought he was as crazy, deaf and mute as his mom. When Moses saves a life but reveals he can hear, Father Karl Victor assaults him and tosses the child into the River Russ.

    Monks Nicolai and Remus rescue Moses and take him to the Abbey of St. Gaul. The choirmaster Ulrich realizes the lad has extraordinary talents and nurtures the voice by castrating the lad. The castrato meets heiress Amalia Duft. They fall in love, but though she remains his life inspiration, they have little hope of being together. His two monk friends enable Moses to become the toast of Vienna and the rest of Europe as a musico soprano Lo Suizzero.

    This is an engaging historical "biographical" fiction as told by Moses' "son" that life in late eighteenth century is a cruel place for the less fortunate. Though much darker the first act of the Bells reminds me of the modern day Oliver Twist movie August Rush; while the other two acts remain grim yet inspirational as Moses' magically makes music. Although at times especially in act one the story line seems an overly emoting melodrama, readers will ring accolades to Richard Harvell who captures the tone of the good, the bad and the ugly of Europe.

    Harriet Klausner

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  • Posted October 20, 2010

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    For lovers of historical fiction

    This book follows the life of a man from his birth to a deaf and mute bell ringer to the success he finds as an opera singer. The characterization is superb, the story gripping, and the ending greatly satisfying. I read lot and this is my favorite book this year!

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