1937 in Leningrad with Stalin as the dictator. A man is sitting next to an elevator. He is waiting all night through. Waiting for Power to come and to take him to the Big House. But few, who were taken to the Big House, came back.
Julian Barnes chose a real Person for his new novel “The Noise of Time” Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich. One of the most famous and greatest soviet composers. Barnes reveals his difficult history in a wonderful way and with incredible, unbelievable talent.
The book is not a chronological report of Shostakovich’s life. Frequently, he interrupts the story with train of thoughts, reflections, flashbacks and memories. No, interrupt is the wrong word. “To enhance the story amazingly” suits better. All the thoughts and interjections are helping to understand Shostakovich’s personality, attitude and intention.
Barnes creates with an intensive, rich in images but nevertheless clear style of writing a formidable realistic and subtle picture of the composer. The author was gifted the talent to not only write feelings, but to let them live.
It feels like you could literally feel the fear, the self-doubts, the desolation and depression of Shostakovich. Barnes creates a small window, through which the reader can catch a glimpse of an artist’s life, oppressed by the Marxist-Leninist Soviet.
I think, the book helped me to understand his music, thanks to the acquired background. Even though Shostakovich “says”: What he hoped was that death would liberate his music: liberate it from his life […] his music would be . . . just music” (page 179). Frankly, before this book, I have simply admired his music, now I am beginning to understand.
Julian Barnes does not only tell the story of Shostakovich. Moreover he gives place to criticism. He levels criticism against other artists, but first and foremost there is critique of the system. A critique which is utterly reasonable and not in the least overblown. Quite the contrary. He opens the reader’s eyes and shows how it really was these days ago. How terrifying. Horrific. Cruel. And consequently the question arises: “How is the situation today? Am I, are we, the same cowardly audience, naïve and gullible, as the people are described in “The Noise of Time”?
Even though you are no aficionado of Shostakovich or his music, even though you could not care less about music, I can only recommend this book. It’s awesome, wonderful written, singularly and unforgettable. One of the best books I have read lately.