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The Soloist by Mark Salzman

The Soloist (original 1994; edition 1995)

by Mark Salzman

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6141815,860 (3.68)63
Title:The Soloist
Authors:Mark Salzman
Info:Vintage (1995), Edition: First Vintage Contemporaries Edition, Paperback, 284 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Soloist by Mark Salzman (1994)



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A fascinating book about a year in the life of a cellist in Los Angeles who takes on a very young student and becomes a juror on a murder trial with an insanity defense. Renne (Reinhart) Sundheimer was a cello wunderkind who suddenly and inexplicably lost his ability to concertize at 21. Thereafter he taught students at the university. As the book opens he is 34 and has been asked to teach a new very young and talented Korean boy. He's also received a summons for jury trial. These two stories, although very different, are interwoven and show you the artist and the man in all his complexities. As someone who has worked for trial attorneys for over 40 years, I loved the courtroom scenes and Renne's thoughtful remarks on the witnesses and the process. As a music lover, I enjoyed and was educated by his explanations of the musical pieces they played or heard. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Jun 7, 2015 |
I don't know what Salzman set out to do but whatever it was, I think he failed. The main character is unsympathetic in the way a person might be when he's always been told he's brilliant and special and he turns out not to be. In that way, Salzman succeeds in creating him. Then again, it's hard to care about his feelings and experiences because he's so self-centered. Not an easy book to like and, with a slapped-on ending, an unsatisfying read.

Petrea Burchard
Camelot & Vine ( )
  PetreaBurchard | Feb 9, 2014 |
Someone gave me this book - I didn't particularly like the cover, but started to read just to "check it out." Couldn't put it down! Loved the characterization and the simpleness of the plot. Great story - I'm definitely looking for more by Salzman ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 16, 2013 |
This was a great book. It was fun to see the metamorphosis of this character as the book goes on! Quite a fun read, especailly as someone who loves classical music! ( )
  kcoleman428 | Apr 3, 2013 |
The Soloist is the story of Renne Sundheimer, a gifted Cellist who, after a childhood of performance and incredible expectations for a career on the stage, is now teaching at a university. Two occurrences change his life: a young boy, an apparent prodigy, is sent to him for Cello lessons, and he is summoned to serve on the jury for the murder trial of an apparently insane young man. The narrative moves back and forth in time, with the feel of stories within stories, which is consistent with Salzman's affinity for Japanese culture.

This is an interesting and enjoyable novel, but great literature it's not. The prose is pedestrian; Salzman isn't interested in language. He's interested in the boundaries between sanity and insanity, between spiritual experience and psychosis (shades of his far more finely crafted novel, Lying Awake), and in the possibility that transcendence through music has a place in this philosophical landscape. He suggests that there is a kind of musical "fugue state" experienced by exquisitely gifted musicians, that teeters between spiritual awakening and psychotic process. The intersection between music, spirituality, and psychosis is engaging. But his description of human experience is too literal. I wanted him to show me what characters were feeling (most notably, the first-person narrator) rather than telling me in 8th-grade reading level language. Also, Salzman too frequently succumbs to his desire to share information with his audience (I fully agree that it's better to adopt a cat from the pound than from a pet store, but the narrator's description of the reasons for this, and how he learned about those reasons, creates a flat literary voice).

Renne's story is engaging. It's really a vehicle for Salzman to meditate "out loud" about the questions that interest him and he succeeds in making those questions surprisingly interesting to me. I did find myself wishing he would focus more. Salzman tried to cover too much without the literary gift to accomplish it in this novel. The result is a teach-y style with occasional moments of subtlety that kept me reading. For example, as the judge questions Renne and his fellow jurors over their inability to reach a verdict, Renne states "The disagreement between me and the other eleven jurors is fundamental, not a disagreement over details." Well, yes.

In sum, I recommend this novel with some reservations. It has much to offer in the way of thought-provoking musings and an unusual and worthwhile story, but it does too much of the work for the reader. ( )
1 vote EBT1002 | Apr 22, 2012 |
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This morning I read an article suggesting that Saint Theresa of Avila, a sixteenth-century Spanish mystic noted for her ecstatic visions, suffered from a neurological disorder known to cause hallucinations.
This…makes me wonder how nature could have designed human beings to be so eager to make children, yet so uncertain how to raise them. When do you let children follow their own instincts, and when do you push them to do what you wish you had done yourself?
When you are playing music, you have a clear goal: to organize and produce sounds in such a way that they express shades of emotion. By practicing, you struggle throughout your life to make your communications more direct and copncise, so that a person hearing you play receives emotional impressions in as pure a form as possible.
I take after my father in this regard: he treated Judaism as a form of culture rather than as a religion. He believed that by observing the holidays, learning Jewish history and studying the Talmud, one gained an intellectual understanding of the tradition that helped give one a good starting point, but not an end point, for the development of personal morality.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679759263, Paperback)

As a child, Renne showed promise of becoming one of the world's greatest cellists. Now, years later, his life suddenly is altered by two events: he becomes a juror in a murder trial for the brutal killing of a Buddhist monk, and he takes on as a pupil a Korean boy whose brilliant musicianship reminds him of his own past.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:15 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Renne Sundheimer's life is a shadow of his youth, when he was a celebrated genius cellist. Now a college professor, he struggles to regain his gift. But in one week he is drafted into jury duty and reluctantly agrees to tutor a young Korean boy, forcing Renne to come to terms with his limitations and broaden his horizons.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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