“Delightful. . . reveals an author full of knowledge, invention and passion. . . . A lovely book.” – The Telegraph (London)
“Compelling humanity . . . deliciously caught. . . . Conjured with exceptional vividness.” – The Evening Standard (London)
“The music-biz interludes intrigue and convince. Lebrecht . . . always knows the score.”-– The Independent (London)
“An unusually impressive first novel." – The Spectator
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Elegant and evocative, The Song of Names is poised to take its place among the most moving works of Holocaust literature. Lebrecht's story centers on the friendship of two Jewish boys who grow up together in London in the years before, during, and after World War II. Martin is the son of a successful music publisher and concert producer; Dovidl is a Polish violin prodigy whose father brings him to England to hone his talent. Soon after he arrives in London, Dovidl's father must return to Poland, and Martin's family takes Dovidl in.
As Martin prepares to follow in his father's administrative footsteps and Dovidl advances toward near-certain stardom in the music world, Martin regards his friend with both adoration and jealousy; his parents are deeply devoted to the young violinist, too. But when Dovidl fails to show up for his much-anticipated concert debut, his disappearance becomes a mystery that will haunt Martin for years.
The Song of Names is as rich and multilayered as a world-class symphony. Strains of Jewish history and culture blend with descriptions of war-torn London and intriguing revelations about the classical music industry, creating a world both unique and engrossing. Though this is Lebrecht's first foray into fiction, it's a performance as glorious as Dovidl's debut was meant to be.
(Winter/Spring 2004 Selection)
In this highly entertaining and accomplished first novel by a well-known English journalist and music critic, two men who became friends as children in London during WWII are reunited after 40 years. In 1939, nine-year-old Martin Simmonds meets Dovidl Rapoport, a violin prodigy the same age. Martin's father is a music impresario, and when Dovidl is sent by his Polish parents to study in England, he offers the boy lodging in his own home. Dovidl and Martin quickly become best friends. Dovidl's parents perish in the Holocaust; then, in 1951, Dovidl-his name changed to the more palatable Eli-is about to embark on a career as a concert virtuoso when he disappears on the day of his debut. Martin becomes obsessed with his friend's disappearance, and after decades of searching finally finds him in a dreary town in the north of England. Lebrecht's deep knowledge of music, his insights and his verbal inventiveness enliven the book (describing two awkward professors, he says they "stand out like frayed cuffs on a funeral suit"). However, the novel drags in the middle with the backstory of the two boys living through the blitz; this is material that has been presented elsewhere and in greater depth. Also, there's no real mystery in unraveling either the location or identity of Rapoport. Simmonds's supposedly epic quest ("I am consumed by thoughts of finding him") is over in less than two days, and it's a letdown for the reader not to be able to sift through tantalizing clues. These shortcomings aside, this is a confidently written and engaging first novel by a talented writer. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Musical prodigy vanishes on day of debut, is discovered four decades later by his childhood friend. A confident first novel (and Whitbread Prize winner) from veteran English music journalist/author Lebrecht (Covent Garden, 2001, etc.) ranges widely through classical music, Jewish culture, and wartime London. It's 1939, and narrator Martin Simmonds is the only child of middle-class Jews, his father a music publisher and impresario. His wretched loneliness ends when nine-year-old David-Eli Rapoport (Dovidl) comes to live with them. Dovidl has left his family in Warsaw to study the violin with a master. The two boys hit it off. Martin is happy to follow the lead of the dynamic Dovidl, reveling in his newfound self-esteem as Dovidl becomes his alter ego. They explore London together, enjoying the adventure of the Phony War, though when the bombs reach their neighborhood, Martin sees a darker side of his friend, who takes money off a corpse. His father has already warned him that every artist has "a hard core of brute egotism." At war's end, Dovidl learns that his family had been deported to Treblinka, and accepts their death. He continues playing, and old man Simmonds's publicity campaign engenders huge expectations for his 1951 debut. His disappearance shatters the family. Martin's father dies, his mother is institutionalized, and Martin salvages the business, entering a sterile "half-life," listlessly raising his own family. Forward to 1991. Judging a provincial music contest, a young competitor's use of rubato convinces Martin that his mentor was Dovidl. He tracks the player down and hears his story. Dovidl is a Talmudic scholar in an ultraorthodox sect, a transformation that began the dayof his aborted debut. But would a blindly selfish genius ever have submitted so passively to his religious heritage? The about-face is hard to swallow, as is Martin's eventual evolution from cautious fuddy-duddy to daring, hard-nosed avenger. Still, flaws in characterization aside, there's plenty to enjoy here: lively intelligence, fine social history, and enough of a novelist's sensibility to make you hungry for more.
“A vivid and outstanding story that sings about artistry, genius, music, love, envy, friendship, and revenge.”