Set in England at the onset of World War II, McCall Smith's new tale is a metaphor for the transformative power of music…La's Orchestra Saves the World is crafted with the author's usual wit, wisdom and grace. Like a pianist putting listeners at ease with the opening phrase, McCall Smith immediately makes us feel confident that this is a true and resonant tale.
The Washington Post
Surely only a writer like McCall Smith could make the war years feel like such a better, simpler time.
The New York Times
Set mainly during WWII in England, this quiet story about a woman who makes a new life for herself falls short of bestseller Smith's best work. After La Stone's husband leaves her for another woman in France, La retreats to a small cottage in Suffolk given to her by her mortified in-laws. The isolation and peacefulness suit La, who joins the Women's Land Army soon after the outbreak of war. When Feliks Dabrowski, an attractive Polish ex-pat, is assigned to the same farm where La is assisting with chores, La is attracted to him, despite her suspicions that Feliks hasn't been fully truthful about his past. La's idea to launch an amateur local orchestra to boost morale proves an unexpected success and helps give her purpose during the war's darkest days. While the understated prose appeals, La just isn't as interesting a creation as the author's two female sleuths, Precious Ramotswe (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) and Isabel Dalhousie (The Sunday Philosophy Club). (Dec.)
After her husband leaves her for another woman, Lavendar, or La, leaves London for the Suffolk home generously provided by her in-laws. Soon after, war with Hitler is declared, and La begins gathering eggs for a farmer, organizes an orchestra of servicemen and townspeople, and finds work for Feliks, a Polish airman who can no longer fly. After Feliks is wrongly accused of theft, La shares her concern that he is actually German, and he isn't seen in the village again until La's VE Day concert. As a dedicated fan of Mma Ramotswe, this reader was disappointed with the scattered nature and bland characters of Smith's latest. La never truly comes alive, and the details of her life don't add up to a cohesive picture explaining her choices. Elements of interest, such as wartime life in the English villages, how music can inspire, rebuilding life after the loss of a marriage, or options for a single woman with means and opportunity, are only skimmed. VERDICT The author's name will make this a strong seller, but readers hoping for another Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will be left wanting. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 8/09.]—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., IL
Gravely charming stand-alone from the chronicler of Mma Precious Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie (The Lost Art of Gratitude, 2009, etc.) sees an aggressively ordinary English widow through the dark days of World War II. Despite being warned by her tutor that too many women leave Cambridge with a husband instead of a career, that's exactly what Lavender Ferguson does. Even worse, the man who presses her to marry him, wine-merchant scion Richard Stone, soon presses on to greener pastures-i.e., France with another woman. Deeply sad but matter-of-fact about her failed marriage, La retreats to Sussex, where she is financially secure but very much at loose ends. After war is declared, she casts about for some way to help the war effort in this isolated rural area where she's never made the friends she rather naively expected. At length she volunteers to help arthritic chicken farmer Henry Madder feed the troops and the nation. While she's working as a freelance Land Girl, a conversation with Squadron-Leader and amateur trumpeter Tim Honey prompts La to take the lead in forming an amateur orchestra that can keep up the locals' spirits and perhaps even show Hitler a thing or two. Her plans put her into close contact with wounded Polish airman Feliks Dabrowski, a flutist who lacks both an eye and an instrument. La falls in love with Feliks. A thief relieves Henry of £800. Suspicion is confined to an uncomfortably small circle. As in Chekhov, such incidents constantly portend decisive developments that somehow never come to pass. Like Chekhov, Smith shows his heroine, who believes that "music could make a difference in the temper of the world," triumphing over the details of everyday life byimmersing herself in them so completely that she achieves an apotheosis in the reflection, "I have been a handmaiden."
"A metaphor for the transformative power of music.... crafted with the author's usual wit, wisdom and grace."
"A big story about love, death, identity and music."
—The Lincoln Journal Star
"McCall Smith's characters are well-drawn and alive. . . . A satisfying work by a writer . . . who charms many readers."
“Beautifully precise and psychologically acute.”
—The Independent, London
"Delightful . . . McCall Smith once again creates unforgettable characters and a story that will resonate with readers across generations . . . A fresh and unforgettable story about the power of human kindness. Highly recommended."
—Booklist (starred review)
"The evocation of war-torn England, with its palpable mood of defiance, determination and survival, is beautifully caught . . . An excellent recreation of a woman of her time."
"Unlike anything else in McCall Smith's work."
"Alexander McCall Smith writes about the enduring, patient qualities of love . . . The novel pays heed to our national yearning for a story to chew on."
—The Times (London)
"A gentle and uplifting read."
—The Daily Mail