Saturday, February 21, 2009

Song of Names

Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht was the winner of the 2003 Whitbread First Novel Award Mr. Lebrecht is a British commentator on music and cultural affairs and, according to his website (, he has written 11 books about music.

Song of Names was his first novel (obviously, since that’s what he won the award in) and combines the two worlds of classical music and London’s Jewish population, beginning during WW II. It is the story of two boys, Martin and Dovidl. Martin’s father was a promoter of music, working with musicians, arranging concerts, etc. Dovidl and his father came to London from Poland right before the Germans invaded Poland, in order for Dovidl to study classical violin in London. Dovidl’s father wanted to return to Poland and to the family, so Martin’s father agreed to keep Dovidl at his home. Dovidl and Martin grew up together almost as brothers during the war years, while Dovidl was preparing for his premier. The night of his premier, he disappeared.

Martin grew up to take over his father’s company. Despite many efforts over the years, Martin was unable to learn what became of Dovidl. It was not until 40 years after Dovidl disappeared, that Martin hears a young boy play the violin and realized that the boy could only have learned his technique from Dovidl.

The book is 311 pages, but it didn’t really start to grab me until about two-thirds through (page 223, to be exact). I thought that the first part of the book was excessively wordy and had trouble staying with it. However, after Martin began to suspect that Dovidl might still be alive, I became interested. And when the Song of Names became evident, I was hooked. The book was good enough to stay with until that point, but I was surprised how well-written the last third of the story was. I don’t want to tell anymore of the story so I don’t ruin the book for others. It is a very good story and I recommend it!

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