DISTANT MUSIC by Lee Langley


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Love transcends the eons in a story that travels the globe and tackles the repetitive nature of history.

The Jewish Emmanuel, early in the fifteenth century, was 12 when he ran away to sea. Little did he know he would wind up in Madeira and meet and fall for Esperança, a poor Catholic girl who would give him cherries for his stories. Esperança was a prodigious reader, though no one believed she could actually read at all. Many years later, she is reminded of Emmanuel again when she meets, in old age, a man who can read the Hebrew letters Emmanuel taught her so long ago. She is left, lonely, by the sea that took everyone she cared about: “The sea lay spread below her like a great blue bird drying its wings in the sun, a bird that was also a god, claiming tribute.” The story is repeated in Faro, 60 years later, in 1489, with lovers who go by the same names—“the two had no need for the ritualized, tentative exercises that can transform strangers . . . . Each knew the other’s essence.” And a London woman’s research centuries later, on the Internet, the finding of tidbits linking the historical narratives, reveals the manner in which history resembles a fugue. It’s that sense of echo that British author Langley (Persistent Rumors, 1994, etc.) is after, with similar stories being repeated as the same lovers prove that there are only so many stories to tell, and that history is impotent in repairing the rifts between traditions. When the lovers are reborn again in 1855 in Lisbon—at a bookstore, in a time of murders—the plot flirts with the supernatural when the more ambitious turn would have been to rely simply on the nice portraits of historical Europe we’ve got through the exhaustive research here. When we finally catch up with the woman searching the Internet, the tactic is a bit strained even as Langley’s message shines through.

Sublime, if a smidge too magical.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-57131-040-1
Page count: 332pp
Publisher: Milkweed
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2003