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“In May 1937 a man in his early thirties waits by the lift of a Leningrad apartment block. He waits all through the night, expecting to be taken away to the Big House. Any celebrity he has known in the previous decade is no use to him now. And few who are taken to the Big House ever return……… But it was probable that he looked exactly what he was: a man, like hundreds of others across the city, waiting, night after night, for arrest……..In the old days, a child might pay for the sins of its father, or indeed mother. Nowadays, in the most advanced society on earth, the parents might pay for the sins of the child, along with uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws, colleagues, friends, and even the man who unthinkingly smiled at you as he came out of the lift at three in the morning. The system of retribution had been greatly improved, and was so much more inclusive than it used to be……..”- excerpt from Julian Barnes’s first novel since his Booker-winning The Sense of an Ending.
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes is a fictionalised biography of Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich. Deftly capturing the terror of the Stalinist era, Barnes takes us through the constricting and traumatic circumstances, that marred the great composer’s life. Given the era he lived in, Shostakovich’s musical genius was in a constant tussle with the “Soviet Dream” and his artistic freedom eventually became non-existent. As was the case during that time, Lenin’s Bolshevik ideals became redundant, and the key to survive became cowardice- usually veiled as compliance with the norms, set by the helmsman in power.
In typical Barnes style, this saga is all about the protagonist, Shostakovich- his musical gift, his choices, his psyche and his contradictions. The research is impeccable and the use of language masterful. With the composer in the pivotal position, the author paints an apt picture of what the Soviet stood for. Throughout the novel, Barnes’ unembellished prose manages to bring the composer back to life. As each page turns, Dimitri’s mental struggle becomes unbelievably realistic, taking the reader on a despairing journey. Though the era is long gone, you can’t help but mourn for those who lived during that dismal time.
A brilliantly written saga by a gifted wordsmith!!!!!