In a widely translated European hit, first-time Austrian novelist Schneider tells the tale, brilliantly, of a backward peasant village and the great musical genius who's born there to blush unseen. From his birth in 1803, there are strange things about Johannes Elias Alder, including his body's physical maturation far in excess of his age, or his eyes turning from green to yellow and his gaining ""a full bass voice"" when he's only five: but then not everybody, at five, has ""heard the sound of the universe."" Elias, though, at a spot down by the river, has heard not only all sounds that exist in the world, but even the beating of the heart of his unborn beloved, whose name will be Elspeth. Therein lies tragic sorrow for Elias, since his shyness will later keep him from declaring his love to Elspeth, who, marrying another, takes away Elias's will to live. By this time -- he'll be only 22 -- Elias will have become organist in the village church, and he'll also, at long last, have been discovered by a traveler as the genius he is. Invited to the Eschberg Organ Festival, the barefoot Elias, who can read no music, nevertheless so utterly stuns the audience --just as Schneider so utterly stuns his reader in the grand telling of it -- that it's clear nothing like such music has ever been heard before on earth. But all is too late for Elias, thwarted victim of a ""doltish peasant world of which he had never wished to be a part."" He's lived through fires, murders, perversities, inbreedings, and brutalities of extraordinary sorts, but his love for Elspeth is unsurvivable, and he chooses death instead -- a death such as the breathless reader of this ""chronicle of a world that has lost its significance"" will scarcely believe. With unflagging passion and extraordinary inventiveness, Schneider has created a pathetic, brutal, symbolic, wonderful, historic, appalling -- in a word, human -- world.