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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tragic Bells

The Bells
Richard Harvell
Shaye Areheart, 2010

Born in an eighteenth-century Swiss Alps community where his deaf mother was the keeper of the church bells, illegitimate child Moses Froben is cast out by his self-serving father and is rescued by two monks, who take him back to the historic Abbey of St. Gall, where he discovers his purpose in life through his singing.

Moses doesn’t even know his name when he is rescued by the two monks; one of them christens him such when they come upon him all alone in the wilderness, just like Moses of the Bible. Moses is allowed to stay at the Abbey only because his voice is the most beautiful ever heard, but life is not so good for him there. Not only does his beautiful voice end up causing him the most pain and grief of his life, he ends up leaving the abbey under tragic circumstances after falling in love with a nobleman’s daughter. Not knowing what else to do, he goes to Venice and apprentices himself to a great opera singer who is not as good as Moses, but he is only using the apprenticeship to continue to search for his lost love, who has been married to another.

Indeed, Moses’ whole life is grand and tragic in true operatic style. Much happens to him in this long and involved novel – but then again, some of it is of his own making. I’m still trying to figure out if I liked this book or not. The early sections about Moses’ boyhood at the Abbey were the best parts; I think I was losing interest when he began to secretly meet with the girl even though it would not be good for either of them if they were caught, which they are. Yet, it’s hard to deny the powerful pull of the music: Moses’ exemplary singing voice is both his triumph and his downfall. I think I kept reading because I was hoping he could eventually gather enough remnants of some kind of life to be happy. But you will have to read for yourself to see if that happens.

This is the author’s first novel.

Other titles you may enjoy:

Adam Runaway by Peter Prince (2005)
Coming of age in eighteenth-century Lisbon, Adam Hanaway lives with his uncle after the death of his father but finds his extended family's cool reception and his own penchant for fleeing from threatening situations compromising his happiness.

The Black Violin by Maxence Fermine (2003)
Wounded while fighting with Napoleon's army in the Italian campaign, violin prodigy Johannes Karelsky arrives in Venice, where he is rescued by a mysterious woman and boards with Erasmus, an aged violin maker who has created the legendary "Black Violin."

Antonio’s Wife by Jacqueline DeJohn (2004)
Opera diva Francesca Frascatti journeys to New York to search for her daughter, the product of a love affair, joining forces with Dante, a handsome detective, and Mina DiGianni, an Italian seamstress with an abusive husband.

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