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Orfeo
     

Orfeo

3.0 6
by Richard Powers
 

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A Chicago Tribune 'Best Books of 2014'New York Times Bestseller
Longlisted for The Man Booker Prize
Longlisted for the National Book Award The National Book Award–winning author of The Echo Maker delivers his most emotionally charged novel to date, inspired by the myth of Orpheus.
"If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century…he'd

Overview

A Chicago Tribune 'Best Books of 2014'New York Times Bestseller
Longlisted for The Man Booker Prize
Longlisted for the National Book Award The National Book Award–winning author of The Echo Maker delivers his most emotionally charged novel to date, inspired by the myth of Orpheus.
"If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century…he'd probably be the Herman Melville of Moby-Dick. His picture is that big," wrote Margaret Atwood (New York Review of Books). Indeed, since his debut in 1985 with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, Richard Powers has been astonishing readers with novels that are sweeping in range, dazzling in technique, and rich in their explorations of music, art, literature, and technology.
In Orfeo, Powers tells the story of a man journeying into his past as he desperately flees the present. Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab—the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns—has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive. As an Internet-fueled hysteria erupts, Els—the "Bioterrorist Bach"—pays a final visit to the people he loves, those who shaped his musical journey. Through the help of his ex-wife, his daughter, and his longtime collaborator, Els hatches a plan to turn this disastrous collision with the security state into a work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around them. The result is a novel that soars in spirit and language by a writer who “may be America’s most ambitious novelist” (Kevin Berger, San Francisco Chronicle).

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Jim Holt
Why…was I unable to resist the emotional pull of Orfeo? Why did I pick it up eagerly each day and find myself moist-eyed when I came to its last pages? That, I think, has everything to do with Powers's skill at putting us into the mind of his protagonist. Peter Els is blessed (or cursed) with an almost painfully exquisite musical sensibility. Throughout Orfeo we experience tonal patterns of all kinds—from bird song to the overtone series of a single piano note to the "caldera of noise" at a John Cage happening and the "naked pain" in the Largo of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony—filtered through Peter's lyrical consciousness.
Publishers Weekly
★ 10/07/2013
Seventy-year-old Peter Els, a divorced and retired adjunct professor living in suburban Pennsylvania, is the latest protagonist from Powers (who won the National Book Award for The Echo Maker). When Els’s dog has a heart attack, police respond to his 911 call and stumble into a room converted into an amateur biochemical engineering lab. While Els doesn’t have malicious intent—this is just the final phase of a life spent enthralled with creation, first musical, now chemical—the Feds are suspicious. Rapidly, Els becomes a fugitive from the law and a presumed domestic bioterrorist. As he flees west, he visits the people who have shaped his life, but are now estranged from him—his ex-wife, his ever-eccentric creative partner, his anxious daughter. The backstory of Els’s life, from childhood to the present, is woven expertly through his escape narrative. The shy, clarinet-toting boy is as believable as the young man in love, the awestruck father, and the out-of-touch husband. But the scenes at the University of Illinois in the 1960s—where John Cage stages epic musical performance pieces and Els, inspired, creates his own— are the most vivid. Powers’s talent for translating avant-garde music into engrossing vignettes on the page is inexhaustible. Els’s obsession with avant-garde music, which isolates him from everyone he loves, becomes the very thing that aligns him with the reader. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (Jan.)
The New Yorker
“Powers deftly dramatizes the obsession that has defined Els’s life: ‘How did music trick the body into thinking it had a soul?'”
Jim Holt - New York Times Book Review
“Powers is prodigiously talented. Besides being fearfully erudite, he writes lyrical prose, has a seductive sense of wonder and is an acute observer of social life…. Why did I pick it up eagerly each day and find myself moist-eyed when I came to its last pages? That, I think, has everything to do with Powers’s skill at putting us into the mind of his protagonist.”
Elizabeth Sile - Esquire
“Powers proves, once again, that he's a master of the novel with Orfeo, an engrossing and expansive read that is just as much a profile of a creative, obsessive man as it is an escape narrative.”
Harvey Freedenberg - Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Orfeo is that rare novel truly deserving of the label ‘lyrical'…. Richard Powers offers a profound story whose delights are many and lasting.”
David Ulin - Los Angeles Times
“Magnificent and moving.”
Dan Cryer - Newsday
“Extraordinary…[Powers's] evocations of music, let alone lost love, simply soar off the page.”
Angela Carone - San Diego Magazine
“Ambitious and profound.”
John Domini - Philly.com
“Will take your breath away.”
Tom LeClair - Christian Science Monitor
“Since reviewing Richard Powers's second novel, Prisoner's Dilemma, in 1988, I've had to keep track of his age so that, when asked who to read, I can say, "Powers. He's the most important living American novelist under" whatever age he happens to be at the time. Now he's 56, and I believe only (in alphabetical order) DeLillo, Morrison, Pynchon, and Roth—all two decades older—stand above him. Of novelists in Powers's generation with whom he is often compared—Franzen, Vollmann, Wallace—none equals Powers's combination of consistent production, intellectual range, formal ingenuity, and emotional effect.”
Ted Gioia - San Francisco Gate
“Few authors of contemporary fiction can surpass Powers.”
Tom LeClair - Barnes and Noble Review
“Of novelists in Powers's generation with whom he is often compared … none equals Powers's combination of consistent production, intellectual range, formal ingenuity, and emotional effect.”
The Economist
“Will transport readers.”
Washington Post
“A fascinating novel about the allure and power of music.”
Ron Hogan - The Daily Beast
“While it starts off with a thriller plotline—falsely accused bioterrorist on the run—Richard Powers's Orfeo constantly shifts gears.”
Tom LeClair - The Christian Science Monitor
“Of novelists in Powers's generation with whom he is often compared—Franzen, Vollmann, Wallace—none equals Powers's combination of consistent production, intellectual range, formal ingenuity, and emotional effect.”
Starred Review Booklist
“Powers has a way of rendering the world that makes it seem familiar and alien, friendly and frightening… the effect is heartbreaking and beautiful.”
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-06
The earmarks of the renowned novelist's work are here--the impressive intellect, the patterns connecting music and science and so much else, the classical grounding of the narrative--but rarely have his novels been so tightly focused and emotionally compelling. With his "genius" certified by a MacArthur grant, Powers (Generosity, 2009, etc.) has a tendency to intimidate some readers with novels overstuffed with ideas that tend to unfold like multilayered puzzles. His new one (and first for a new publisher) might be a good place for newcomers to begin while rewarding the allegiance of his faithful readership. His Orpheus of the updated Greek myth (which the novel only loosely follows) is a postmodern composer who lost his family to his musical quest; his teaching position to his age and the economy; and his early aspirations to study chemistry to the love of a musical woman who left him. At the start of the novel, he is pursuing his recent hobby in his home lab as "a do-it-yourself genetic engineer," hoping for "only one thing before he dies: to break free of time and hear the future." Otherwise, his motives remain a mystery to the reader and to the novel's other characters, particularly after discovery of his DNA experiments (following the death of his faithful dog and musical companion, Fidelio) sends him on the lam as a suspected bioterrorist and turns his story viral. While rooted in Greek mythology, this is a very contemporary story of cybertechnology, fear run rampant, political repression of art and the essence of music (its progression, its timelessness). "How did music trick the body into thinking it had a soul?" asks protagonist Peter Els, surely one of the most soulful characters that the novelist has ever conjured. Els looks back over his life for much of the narrative, showing how his values, priorities, quests and misjudgments have (inevitably?) put him into the predicament where he finds itself. By the author's standards, this is taut, trim storytelling, though it characteristically makes all sorts of connections and proceeds on a number of different levels.
Scott Korb - Slate
“Orfeo reveals how a life, and the narrative of a life, accumulates, impossibly, infinitely, from every direction…. In this retelling of the Orpheus myth Powers also manages enchantment.”
Troy Jollimore - Chicago Tribune
“Orfeo… establishes beyond any doubt that the novel is very much alive.”
Adam Kirsch - Boston Globe
“Biology and music, past and present, come together in a clever, explosive resolution.”
Ted Gioia - The San Francisco Chronicle
“For sheer bravado in constructing sentences, few authors of contemporary fiction can surpass Powers…One of his finest yet.”
Keith Staskiewicz - Entertainment Weekly
“Powers’ writing is complex and heady without being head-achy, and his synesthetic descriptions of finding melodies in the mundane are full of their own kind of music.”
Andrew Leonard - Salon
“An extraordinary feat… makes the inaccessible comprehensible.”
Jim Holt - The New York Times Book Review
“Powers is prodigiously talented, he writes lyrical prose, has a seductive sense of wonder and is an acute observer of social life.”
Heller McAlpin - NPR
“Bravo, Richard Powers, for hitting so many high notes with Orfeo and contributing to the fraction of books that really matter.”
David Ulin - The Los Angeles Times
“Magnificent and moving.”
Chicago Tribune
“[T]he crowning achievement of this wildly imaginative Evanston native’s distinguished career.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393240825
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
01/20/2014
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
11.50(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.60(d)

Meet the Author

Richard Powers was born in Evanston, Illinois. He is the recipient of a MacArthur grant and the National Book Award, and he has been a Pulitzer Prize and NBCC finalist.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Urbana, Illinois
Date of Birth:
June 18, 1957
Place of Birth:
Evanston, Illinois
Education:
M.A., University of Illinois, 1979

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Orfeo: A Novel 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
PaqiPR More than 1 year ago
Richard Powers is brilliant, and I am not. I struggle a bit with his books, but the struggle is well worth it for the insights and beauty of the work. In the book, I was drowning a bit in trying to understand the music. Once I gave up trying to completely understand that, the book flowed. I can't quite decide if it shows me our modern world as terrifying or sublime, but I come away with a different--and undoubtedly more accurate--view of it than I had before.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With 30 pages left I finally realized that I could go no further.  I just didn't care.
MWgal More than 1 year ago
The book and the journey it takes you on are brilliant, musical, and soulful. Thank you, Mr. Powers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
only about 20% of the book had anything to do with the review. mostly rantings about music which only a PhD would understand. Very disappointing