The Noise of Time

Knopf. May 2016. 224p. ISBN 9781101947241. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101947258. F
OrangeReviewStarDmitri Shostakovich (1906–75), considered by many the greatest Soviet Russian composer, wrote much of his music under exceedingly trying conditions. He lived at a time when incurring the disfavor of Soviet leader Stalin could land even musicians and poets in the gulag or worse. In his new novel, Man Booker Prize winner Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) details how for years the artist slept with a packed suitcase beside him each night should he hear that knock on the door. The author addresses his subject not chronologically but by emphasizing certain themes in his life: his insecurities, his relations with women and his several marriages, and his never-ending run-ins with Power—Barnes's term for the Soviet establishment. Even when his reputation was reestablished after Stalin's death, Shostakovich continued to experience confrontations with a Communist party determined to use him for its own ends.
VERDICT Though his novel says comparatively little about Shostakovich's music, Barnes's fresh and distinctive approach to the composer's life highlights key aspects of his character and lets us believe we've read an actual biography. This engaging work is well recommended to readers of literary fiction as well as aficionados of Soviet culture and history. [See Prepub Alert, 2/21/16.]
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