Picks and Pans Review: The Song of Names

updated 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Norman Lebrecht
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Two men raised in the shadow of Nazi Germany reunite after four decades in this bittersweet: first novel. Martin Simmonds and violin prodigy Dovidl Rapoport were best friends growing up in London in the 1930s. Martin's father, a music impresario, takes in Dovidl, nurtures him and counsels him when his parents are killed in the Holocaust. Then, on the eve of his much anticipated debut, Dovidl disappears. Not until the 1980s does Martin learn what happened to his friend.

Though a latecomer to fiction, Lebrecht, 55, elegantly evokes the world of high-stakes music and the intricate intellectual debate about it. How important is music in culture? Does talent come with responsibility? Lebrecht explores these complicated questions without sinking to pedagogy. The result is an unlikely page turner. As Martin explains: "What virtuosi do is take old of time and create an illusion that...they control it." With this gorgeous and heartbreaking tale, Norman Lebrecht duplicates that feat in prose.

NOVEL

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