4.7 11
by Rana Dasgupta

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With an imaginative audacity and lyrical brilliance that puts him in the company of David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, Rana Dasgupta paints a portrait of a century though the story of a hundred-year-old blind Bulgarian man in a first novel that announces the arrival of an exhilarating new voice in fiction.

In the first movement of Solo we meet Ulrich, the son

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With an imaginative audacity and lyrical brilliance that puts him in the company of David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, Rana Dasgupta paints a portrait of a century though the story of a hundred-year-old blind Bulgarian man in a first novel that announces the arrival of an exhilarating new voice in fiction.

In the first movement of Solo we meet Ulrich, the son of a railroad engineer, who has two great passions: the violin and chemistry. Denied the first by his father, he leaves for the Berlin of Einstein and Fritz Haber to study the latter. His studies are cut short when his father’s fortune evaporates, and he must return to Sofia to look after his parents. He never leaves Bulgaria again. Except in his daydreams—and it is those dreams we enter in the volatile second half of the book. In a radical leap from past to present, from life lived to life imagined, Dasgupta follows Ulrich’s fantasy children, born of communism but making their way into a post-communist world of celebrity and violence.

Intertwining science and heartbreak, the old world and the new, the real and imagined, Solo is a virtuoso work.

“Utterly unforgettable in its humanity.” —The Guardian

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Winner of the U.K.'s Commonwealth Prize, Dasgupta's second book (after Tokyo Canceled) is bold, enigmatic, and thought-provoking. After his pragmatic father crushes Ulrich's passion for music, he turns to chemistry, a subject that takes him to Berlin, "the capital of world science," during the ebb of the Ottoman Empire. He works alongside researchers on the forefront of discovery and shares the halls with Albert Einstein. But WWI forces him back home to Bulgaria and into a bookkeeping job at a chemical plant, where years of political upheavals leading to communism drive Ulrich into a private world of experimentation that ends decades later when he's blinded in an accident. Yet his mind remains very much alive, and the "second movement" of the book reveals a richly imagined world involving a Bulgarian musical prodigy, an American executive, and Georgian siblings whose lives all intersect in New York. With this ambitious structure, Dasgupta's subtle architecture gives rise to questions of modernity, memory, and human failures. Lucid prose and a narrative scheme both demanding and inchoate reveal a writer beginning to deploy his considerable powers. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"Intertwining science and heartbreak, the old world and the new, Dasgupta's debut novel Solo highlights a century of social revolution through the powerful story of a 100-year-old blind man. Though Solo tells the story of [Ulrich's] bleak life, it ultimately speaks of tragedy on a broader scale - that of the human condition."
-The Daily Beast

"Ulrich is a textured study in human failure and the wreckage of communism."
-The New York Times

"Dasgupta is a deeply empathetic serious writer... The last section of Solo brims with superb descriptions of folk music and the drunken tale of men and women who are brought together, then driven apart by the fall of Communism."
-The New York Times Book Review

"SOLO is a wonder—an exploration of memory, a window on a country and region mysterious to the West even in the twentieth century, a keen study of human love and failure." 
- Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian

Solo is "bold, enigmatic, and thought-provoking. ... a richly imagined world... Lucid prose and a narrative scheme both demanding and inchoate reveal a writer beginning to deploy his considerable powers. "
-Publishers Weekly, starred

"Intricate and imaginative, a remarkable novel of music and science, politics and passion, that bridges history and modern times. [...] Graceful and unpredictable, a daring and exceptional achievement."
-Kirkus Reviews, starred

"A novel of exceptional, astonishing strangeness, Solo confirms Rana Dasgupta as the most unexpected and original Indian writer of his generation." 
- Salman Rushdie

 "The sedimentary structure—layering stories of opportunity and oppression—makes Solo a double pleasure: readers can enjoy Dasgupta’s imagination but must also confront problems of celebrity and commerce. Part historical fiction, part heartbreak, part pop culture; think Aleksandar Hemon."
- Library Journal

"With an intriguing bifurcated storytelling device, this is a novel of dazzling ideas and emotion in which Dasgupta comes to astonishingly beautiful and original conclusions about love, loss, and aging, and his protagonist realizes 'There is far more to us than what we live.'"
- Booklist

"Utterly unforgettable in its humanity."
- The Guardian (UK)

"This gloriously eccentric adventure through a century of Bulgarian history is so much fun to read you'll hardly realise how much you're learning . . . Dasgupta colourfully weaves Ulrich's passions for art, science and his best friend's sister through the two world wars (did you know that, although forced to join the fascist bloc, Tsar Boris III refused to hand over Bulgaria's Jews to Hitler?), the fall of the Bulgarian royal family and the rise of communism. . . . weird, wonderful and warmly wise stuff." 
- The Daily Mail (UK)

"Bearing in mind that Dasgupta is a British-Asian author writing about a 100-year-old, blind Bulgarian born at the dawn of the 20th century, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that one of the most notable features of his often beguiling novel is its quivering air of otherness. Confined to his decrepit Sofia home, the hero, Ulrich, begins a soaring flight of the imagination that explores both his past and his country's. . . For as long as the spell remains unbroken, it is worth every second." 
- The Sunday Times (UK)

"What a delight to find a novelist unfazed by the 21st century ... This is an important work." 
-The Australian

"Solo is a nuanced and virtuoso performance." 
- Scotland on Sunday

Library Journal
This new work by Dasgupta (Tokyo Cancelled) is two novels in one book. The first, Life, follows precocious Bulgarian chemist Ulrich, who cannot outrun his country's decline and so must suffer with it; the second, Daydreams, shows us a "better" world imagined by Ulrich in which talented and ambitious youth—Khatuna and Boris, mainly—can escape the uncertainty of a post-Communist culture. Essentially, this work is a meditation on regret. In Life, Ulrich makes it to Germany but is forced home by his mother's sorrowful letters. His talent is forgotten amid a landscape of factories. Then Daydreams clears the air. After reading the details of Ulrich's devastating decline, we are perhaps more willing to forgive Khatuna's tremendous violence and Boris's waywardness if it leads to success (relatively speaking). And it does. VERDICT The sedimentary structure—layering stories of opportunity and oppression—makes Solo a double pleasure: readers can enjoy Dasgupta's imagination but must also confront problems of celebrity and commerce. Part historical fiction, part heartbreak, part pop culture; think Aleksandar Hemon.—Stephen Morrow, Ohio Univ., Athens
Kirkus Reviews

Intricate and imaginative, a remarkable novel of music and science, politics and passion, that bridges history and modern times.

British-born Dasgupta (Tokyo Cancelled, 2005) won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for this original, dreamy two-part story. The first and stronger section, "Life," recounts the memories of a poor, blind, 100-year-old Bulgarian, Ulrich, including his musical ambitions, dashed by his father, and his passion for chemistry, blocked when financial problems ended his studies in Berlin. Overtaken by World War II and the Russian invasion, Ulrich becomes a cog in the Soviet machine, managing a chemical plant. Meanwhile, his marriage has failed, his son has disappeared and his mother is destroyed by her experience in a labor camp. When Communism collapses, things only get worse as the thugs take over, yet despite the suffering there's beauty in Dasgupta's poetic account of a life's rich arc. In "Daydreams," the narrative becomes more surreal. Music, power and politics continue to collide as an American record producer discovers Boris, an untutored Bulgarian musical prodigy. Meanwhile, in Tbilisi, a Georgian girl, Khatuna, marries one of the gangster warlords but must flee when he is murdered. Khatuna and her poet brother meet Boris in New York, where the musician becomes a runaway success. As Boris's success grows uncontrollable and tragedy strikes again, Dasgupta marries the two sections to create an extraordinary encapsulation of a life.

Graceful and unpredictable, a daring and exceptional achievement.

Karan Mahajan
…Dasgupta is a deeply empathetic, serious writer. If he works with fairly recognizable types (a narcissistic record producer, a mad-genius Bulgarian folk musician, a suicidal Georgian poet and his gangster-moll sister), he complicates them by making them care for one another in warm and mysterious ways. The last section of Solo brims with superb descriptions of folk music and the drunken talk of men and women who are brought together, then driven apart, by the fall of Communism.
—The New York Times

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

THE MAN HAS WOKEN SUDDENLY, in the dead zone of the night. It is unnaturally hot for the time of year; his throat is raw and there is sweat in all his creases.
 He stumbles to the sink for water. Then he sits in his armchair, and snorts a few times to clear his nose.
 The bus station outside his window is being modernized, and he can hear drills screaming even at this hour.
 In the interest of reducing crime, two blinding floodlights have been installed in the station forecourt. They seem to have deceived the local birds, which now begin their dawn chorus in the middle of the night, just as the man succeeds in dozing off. At this very moment, they are squawking as if possessed.
 Breathing heavily in his chair, the man is scorched by a halogen glow from outside, though there is darkness in the room.
 Unmindful of the time, the travelers in the bus station bring great ingenuity to the making of noise, shouting and clanging and revving their moribund cars, as if no one were trying to sleep.

The man is nearing the end of his life’s tenth decade, and his apartment is on the fourth floor.
 The main room measures four by three and a half meters. There is a bathroom to the side and, at the end, an area for cooking. The window looks out on the stalls in front of the bus station, where people sell goods from China: alarm clocks, watch straps, plastic plants, batteries, T-shirts, souvenirs, and so on. There are also currency sellers, who sit waiting to trade with those who arrive on buses from other countries.
 There is a leak in one corner of the man’s ceiling, which lets in water when it rains. This water has leached slowly into the plaster in a shape that resembles a map of Australia, causing paint to fall and a smell of cisterns to hang continually in the room.
 The window faces west, so the apartment is brightest in the -evening.
 The government still sees fit to pay the man a pension every month in order to sustain him in his penury. When he retired, many years ago, this money was quite adequate: he lived alone and had few requirements. But with everything that has happened in the economy, his pension has become nearly worthless, and his savings have disappeared. If it were not for the generosity of his neighbors, who buy food and other supplies for him every month, he would find himself in an alarming situation. They are good people: they pay for the man’s television subscription, and the wife even cooks his meals, since he can no longer manage it himself.
 But he does not like bothering them every time he needs more coffee or toilet paper. He has put in many years on this earth, and he feels he has a right to expect that such things will come to him unbidden.
 Events have turned the man blind. But his hearing is quite intact, and his primary entertainment is still his television. He sits in front of beauty contests whose contestants he cannot see, and infomercials, and badly dubbed period dramas from England; travel shows, German pornography, and every other kind of modern wisdom.
 Sometimes, late at night, when his television is turned off, he hears the interminable ring of a telephone somewhere below, and he lies awake wondering where in the world this yearning might be housed, and what it might seek so insistently in this building.
 In the afternoons, the breeze brings with it a slight scent of old urine from the wall below his window. All the men who pass through the bus station duck behind that wall to relieve themselves against it. There are public toilets in the station, but they do not seem to be able to compete with the wall, which holds an uncanny attraction for any man with a full bladder. Even men who have never been there before, and do not realize it is already filled with the reeking sludge of twenty years, give not a second glance to the broken cubicles at the edge of the square. At any moment, two or three of them can be seen standing in the shelter of this wall, shaking out their last drops.
 Women use the cubicles, broken as they are.
 On hot days, the smells become overpowering, and rain comes as a relief, washing everything away. The blind man sits by the window when the rain is heavy, and he can hear the patters of near and far: the silky spray in the trees, the heavy drumming on plastic water tanks, the hard scatter of roads and pavements, the different metallic pitches of car roofs and drain covers, the baritone trilling of tarpaulin, the sticky overflow of mud, the concentrated gushing of drainpipes—and, for a moment, the landscape springs forth, and he is reminded how it is to see.

With the exception of his back, which tortures him every morning, the man’s health is still passable, and yet, by the sheer force of numbers, his death cannot be so far away.
 As a child, the man watched his grandmother put up biographies of the dead on the trees outside their house. She had come from a village near the Black Sea—cut off, now, by the border—and it was the dead from this distant village whose accomplishments were listed on the trunks of those proud and equidistant plane trees. Every day, it seemed, was the death day of someone or other from that remote place, and his grandmother told him the stories over morning tea as she wrote out her obituaries. She tied them with string to the trees, where they decomposed gradually in the rain, to be renewed the following year.
 “How do you remember?” he asked her again and again, for it seemed marvelous that the entire history of that lost dynasty could be preserved in her mind. But his father disapproved of the rural practice, and her own life was never written up on a tree.
 Sensitive, like all infants, to the beyond, the child had in those years a powerful sense of the infinitude of generations. He had seen people buried in the ground with their eyes closed; and in his mind he envisioned the earth in cutaway, with the stacked-up strata of sleeping bodies so vertiginous in their depth that it was simple to believe the lightness of life on the surface to be no more than their collective dream. For the dreamers, quiet and eternal in their moist refuge, greatly outnumbered those with open eyes.
 These early intuitions returned to the man recently when he listened to a television program about a town that was buried underwater after the construction of a dam. Eighty years later, the dam was decommissioned and dismantled. The lake subsided, the river resumed its previous route, and the town rose again into the sunlight.
 There had been extensive damage, of course. Water had dissolved the plaster from walls, and roofs had caved in. Wooden buildings had floated away bit by bit. Trees had died, and the whole town stank of dead fish and river weed for weeks after it was drained. But cars still parked on the streets—antique models, as the man remembered from his own youth. There were clocks arrested at different times, and a cinema with the titles of old films stuck up outside. Road signs had stood firm all this time, pointing the way to underwater destinations. In every house, things had been left behind. A man found a jar of pickles in a kitchen, and tasted them, and pronounced them still good. Some old people who had lived in the town before the deluge were taken to see it again—and it was for them as if they were transported back into a childhood fantasy.
 These days, the man devotes himself to wading through the principal events of his life in order to discover what relics may lie submerged there. Of course, he has no family around him, his friends have all gone, and he knows that no living person is interested in his thoughts. But he has survived a long time, and he does not want it to end with a mindless falling-off.
 Before the man lost his sight, he read this story in a magazine: A group of explorers came upon a community of parrots speaking the language of a society that had been wiped out in a recent catastrophe. Astonished by their discovery, they put the parrots in cages and sent them home so that linguists could record what remained of the lost language. But the parrots, already traumatized by the devastation they had witnessed, died on the way.
 The man feels a great fraternity with those birds. He feels he carries, like them, a shredded inheritance, and he is too concussed to pass anything on.
 That is why he is combing through his life again. He has no wealth and no heirs, and if he has anything at all to leave behind, it will be tangled deep, and difficult to find.

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Meet the Author

Rana Dasgupta was born in Caterbury in 1971. His first book, Tokyo Cancelled (2005), was short-listed for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and praised by Alan Cheuse in the San Francisco Chronicle as “brilliantly conceived.” Visit his website at

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Solo 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
steven03tx More than 1 year ago
Solo is a brilliant novel built around the metaphors that unite the sciences and the arts while it illuminates some of the darker corners of our recent history. The principal character of the novel is Ulrich, a Bulgarian despite his German name, who, in our time, is approaching his hundredth birthday living alone, impoverished and blind, in a shabby apartment in Sofia, Bulgaria. Ulrich reflects back on his prosperous childhood: a Bulgarian father who suppressed Ulrich's interest in music, and a Georgian mother who harbored secret ambitions, both intellectual and erotic. Ulrich discovers, in chemistry, a second love after he is forbidden that of music. After World War I he goes to school in Berlin, then the hub of the scientific world, but also a hotbed of American jazz and other racy new experiences. But Bulgaria's poverty pulls him back, and there he lives through the rise of fascism, another world war, decades of socialism, and the chaotic gangsterism that went by the name of capitalism. In his frustrated, dark, and lonely decades of retirement, Ulrich lives on dreams of what might have been or never was. "...Ulrich has tried to see his emerging interest in chemistry as the revisitation of his entombed love for music. It has struck him that the two have this thing in common: that an infinite range of expression can be generated from a finite number of elements." This quote sums up the theme of the novel and, if you add "fiction" to music and chemistry, somewhat describes its structure as well. The title of the novel invokes, not only Ulrich's loneliness, but the metaphor of a musical composition. The novel is in the form, in fact, of a theme and variations. The first half is the theme: the "facts" of Ulrich's life. The second half is the variations: the daydreams that Ulrich constructs out of his memories. In his sightless solitude, Ulrich creates characters that are composites of himself, his relatives and his friends, and builds a past and a future for them out of his own experience and his imagination: A shape he knew as a water stain on a ceiling becomes a birthmark on someone's face. His revolutionary friend becomes the concert violinist that friend wanted to be. Ulrich puts part of himself in every character. A chemical reaction--a musical composition--a dream--a novel: each one is a rearrangement of basic elements. For those who don't give a fig about the aesthetic ideas just described, Solo is still an eye-opening look at the 20th century in an obscure, but not inconsequential, corner of Europe. Author Dasgupta describes how Bulgaria, only recently independent from the Ottomans, was wracked by internal dissent and economic privation during its transition from one empire's vassal state to another's. He also vividly depicts Berlin in the heady days before Hitler, and Georgia in its lawless post-Soviet days. In addition to its innovative construction, Solo is beautifully written. In describing Bulgaria's past, its passages ring with majestic solemnity; in Ulrich's daydreams they throb with poetic intimacy. Highly recommended, and I hope we see more from this young author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
People are saying you dead.~ S.P
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Name: Mya Olson Gender: Female Age: 17 Looks: tall, long black hair that reaches the small of her back with blonde streaks, blue eyes with dark sunglasses covering them, freckles, and red stained lips. Weapons: a black bow with many different sets of arrows, a silver dagger with a gold handle hidden inside her boot. Skills: sharpshooting, hand-to-hand combat, good at blending in to the darkness which makes her an excellent spy. Clothes: usually all black. Black leather skinny jeans, long sleeved tight shirt, kneed high studded combat boots that have a few weapons. A bracelet made of steel. Past: her father was killed in a battle. Her mother died giving birth to her brother, John. Rank: unknown Relationship status: engaged to Kamron
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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