PSALM AT JOURNEY'S END by Erik Fosnes Hansen


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 First published in Norway in 1990 and a bestseller in Europe, Hansen's second novel (but first US publication) well deserves its acclaim as it charts the lives of several members of the band on board the Titanic, revealing the tragic steps that brought them together on that doomed voyage. The band members themselves are fictional, but their private agonies are real enough, starting with leader Jason Coward, whose boyhood ended prematurely with the death of his physician father and musical mother in India while he was in boarding school, provoking him to a delinquency that eventually leads to his expulsion from medical school and a subsequent life among the dregs of London--a descent ending only when he sees a drunken Russian howling in a dive and takes his side in a brawl, later to join him in violin duos that land the pair steady work on cruise ships. Then there's the secretive Spot, the pianist who plays Chopin with a virtuoso's touch but whose hidden past includes a German bourgeois childhood, years of violin training in Paris with a maestro, a fellow student turned loving wife and mother of their daughter, and a growing reputation, all destroyed by his frustrated ambition to be a composer and by a growing drug addiction. A younger version of these two, making his first voyage and his first money as a musician, is David, a Castorp-like lad from Vienna fleeing the bitter disappointment of his first love, who turned her attention to a famous, older man--a betrayal that David met initially with weakness but finally with strength, confronting the pair in public and proving himself superior to his rival. Past mingles with present as these and other sad tales emerge, while the Titanic steams inexorably toward her destiny. A shimmering, magical evocation of a Europe as yet untouched by world wars, and a deft, convincing combination of personal and public tragedy. First-rate storytelling.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-374-23868-5
Page count: 388pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1996