The Soloist

The Soloist

3.8 8
by Mark Salzman

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As a child, Renne showed promise of becoming one of the world's greatest cellists. Now, years later, his life suddenly is altered by two events: he becomes a juror in a murder trial for the brutal killing of a Buddhist monk, and he takes on as a pupil a Korean boy whose brilliant musicianship reminds him of his own past.

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As a child, Renne showed promise of becoming one of the world's greatest cellists. Now, years later, his life suddenly is altered by two events: he becomes a juror in a murder trial for the brutal killing of a Buddhist monk, and he takes on as a pupil a Korean boy whose brilliant musicianship reminds him of his own past.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author of Iron and Silk offers a quirky and enjoyable about a one time cello prodigy cellist who is transformed by his involvement in a murder trial. (Feb.)
Library Journal
This illuminating novel by the author of Iron and Silk ( LJ 2/1/87) probes the inner life of Reinhart (Renne) Sundheimer, a former boy-wonder cellist who gave up performing in his late teens and now, as a 36-year-old academic, considers himself a has-been. His quiet life changes drastically when he is selected as a juror in the Los Angeles County murder trial of a student accused of killing a Buddhist monk. During the trial, the virginal Renne stumbles into a romantic entanglement; he also agrees to teach a six-year-old Korean boy who may be a prodigy. A perfectionist who owns a blender selected for its F-sharp pitch, Renne is ripe for metamorphosis. Suspense builds inside and out as the trial progresses. The mesmerizing first-person narration reveals Renne's self-tortured character, keen intelligence, and troubled heart as he ponders classical music, human nature, astronomy, and sanity/insanity. A spiritual journey not to be missed. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/93.-- Keddy Ann Outlaw, Harris Cty. P.L., Houston
School Library Journal
YA-The difficulties encountered by ``gifted and talented'' children are dispassionately chronicled in this unusual story about a musical prodigy who as an adult must come to terms with his own mediocrity. When Reinhart Sundheimer's gift as a world-renowned cellist suddenly and inexplicably deserts him at age 18, he is bereft, for he knows no other life than that of the concert stage and is accustomed to adulation. As a college professor who has never learned social skills, he is aloof from his colleagues and spends his spare time practicing in the vain hope that his gift will return. Then, in one event-filled week, the outside world invades his insular environment. First, he is called to jury duty and, second, he agrees to give cello lessons to a 12-year-old prodigy. Interacting with other jurors during deliberations on a brutal murder case and reacting to the unpredictability of his student and the student's Korean family require emotional resources that he never knew he possessed. Both experiences result in personal insight that allows him to accept his limitations as a musician and gives him courage to broaden his horizons as a man. YAs are sure to empathize with the troubled protagonist.-Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
Donna Seaman
Salzman just gets better and better. His memoir "Iron and Silk" (1987) was a hit, and his first novel, "The Laughing Sutra" (1990), was funny and smart, but this book is a jewel. Reinhart Sundheimer was a child prodigy who could coax the very music of the gods from a cello even before he could touch the floor with his feet while seated. He spent his youth studying with an old master and performing around the world. But then, just as inexplicably as it arrived, the magic evaporated, and Sundheimer was left high and dry with no social life to speak of, no sexual experiences, an unsatisfying university job, and a profound sense of failure. This miasma lasts well into his thirties until Sundheimer agrees, albeit reluctantly, to accept a Korean boy as a student. Shy little Kyung-hee is a genuine prodigy whose pure and intuitive response to music acts as a balm to Sundheimer's bruised and neglected soul. At the same time, Sundheimer is summoned to jury duty. He ends up assigned to a case that involves the murder of a Zen Buddhist master by a novice disciple. Sundheimer is forced to broaden his participation in life. He must interact with his fellow jurors, including an attractive woman who tries to get him to loosen up, and consider weighty questions about the meaning of guilt, sanity, responsibility, and the tricky relationship between teacher and student. Slowly and self-consciously, Sundheimer attains a renewed sense of himself and discovers how to find peace in our jarring world. This is a beautiful novel, a veritable concerto. Salzman's intonation is flawless, his themes infinitely ponderable, his symmetry and resolution captivating and uplifting.
Kirkus Reviews
Jury duty in a murder trial helps resolve a classical musician's deep professional crisis—in a haunting second novel from the author of The Laughing Sutra (1990) and Iron and Silk (1986), Salzman's acclaimed book (and later movie) about China. Cellist Reinhart (Renne) Sundheimer, the son of German Jews who fled to America, was once a child prodigy. After the war, his mother returned to Germany so he could study with world-famous cellist Johannes von Kempen, who had retired from the orchestra rather than endure false charges of Nazi sympathies. The ancient maestro, with his inspirational dignity, became the most important person in young Renne's life, softening its loneliness (no playmates, no girlfriends). Then, tragedy: at 18, a conjectural hearing problem drove Renne from the concert stage. When Salzman's story begins, Renne is 34, a cello teacher at UCLA, still a virgin, still grimly determined to concertize again. Two events reshape his identity. He becomes deeply involved in teaching a new prodigy, Kyung-hee, a nine-year-old Korean-American, and he serves as a juror in the trial of a Zen student accused of murdering his master. Salzman skillfully interweaves flashbacks with the nurturing of Kyung-hee and the story of the trial and its offshoot, a budding romance between Renne and fellow-juror Maria-Teresa, an attractive married woman. Renne's insecurity with women snuffs out the romance; then he finds himself the lone holdout for a guilty- but-insane verdict and the object of his fellow-jurors' contempt. Yet the two traumas cause Renne's regeneration as musician and as moral being: he sees the trial as "his graduate recital" for his old master, while he serenelyguides his young prot‚g‚ toward a brilliant future. Salzman's handling of his weighty theme—the passing of torches as the ennobling essence of civilization—is unfailingly light and delicate: this is lovely, offbeat movie material.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Contemporaries
Sold by:
Random House
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File size:
2 MB

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