Intricate and imaginative, a remarkable novel of music and science, politics and passion, that bridges history and modern times.
British-born Dasgupta (Tokyo Cancelled, 2005) won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for this original, dreamy two-part story. The first and stronger section, “Life,” recounts the memories of a poor, blind, 100-year-old Bulgarian, Ulrich, including his musical ambitions, dashed by his father, and his passion for chemistry, blocked when financial problems ended his studies in Berlin. Overtaken by World War II and the Russian invasion, Ulrich becomes a cog in the Soviet machine, managing a chemical plant. Meanwhile, his marriage has failed, his son has disappeared and his mother is destroyed by her experience in a labor camp. When Communism collapses, things only get worse as the thugs take over, yet despite the suffering there’s beauty in Dasgupta’s poetic account of a life’s rich arc. In “Daydreams,” the narrative becomes more surreal. Music, power and politics continue to collide as an American record producer discovers Boris, an untutored Bulgarian musical prodigy. Meanwhile, in Tbilisi, a Georgian girl, Khatuna, marries one of the gangster warlords but must flee when he is murdered. Khatuna and her poet brother meet Boris in New York, where the musician becomes a runaway success. As Boris’s success grows uncontrollable and tragedy strikes again, Dasgupta marries the two sections to create an extraordinary encapsulation of a life.
Graceful and unpredictable, a daring and exceptional achievement.