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Solo by Rana Dasgupta
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Solo (2009)

by Rana Dasgupta

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Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Solo is a brilliant novel built around the metaphors that unite the sciences and the arts while it illuminates some of the darker corners of our recent history.[return][return]The principal character of the novel is Ulrich, a Bulgarian despite his German name, who, in our time, is approaching his hundredth birthday living alone, impoverished and blind, in a shabby apartment in Sofia, Bulgaria. Ulrich reflects back on his prosperous childhood: a Bulgarian father who suppressed Ulrich's interest in music, and a Georgian mother who harbored secret ambitions, both intellectual and erotic. Ulrich discovers, in chemistry, a second love after he is forbidden that of music. After World War I he goes to school in Berlin, then the hub of the scientific world, but also a hotbed of American jazz and other racy new experiences. But Bulgaria's poverty pulls him back, and there he lives through the rise of fascism, another world war, decades of socialism, and the chaotic gangsterism that went by the name of capitalism. In his frustrated, dark, and lonely decades of retirement, Ulrich lives on dreams of what might have been or never was.[return][return]"...Ulrich has tried to see his emerging interest in chemistry as the revisitation of his entombed love for music. It has struck him that the two have this thing in common: that an infinite range of expression can be generated from a finite number of elements." This quote sums up the theme of the novel and, if you add "fiction" to music and chemistry, somewhat describes its structure as well. The title of the novel invokes, not only Ulrich's loneliness, but the metaphor of a musical composition. The novel is in the form, in fact, of a theme and variations. The first half is the theme: the "facts" of Ulrich's life. The second half is the variations: the daydreams that Ulrich constructs out of his memories. In his sightless solitude, Ulrich creates characters that are composites of himself, his relatives and his friends, and builds a past and a future for them out of his own experience and his imagination: A shape he knew as a water stain on a ceiling becomes a birthmark on someone's face. His revolutionary friend becomes the concert violinist that friend wanted to be. Ulrich puts part of himself in every character. A chemical reaction--a musical composition--a dream--a novel: each one is a rearrangement of basic elements.[return][return]For those who don't give a fig about the aesthetic ideas just described, Solo is still an eye-opening look at the 20th century in an obscure, but not inconsequential, corner of Europe. Author Dasgupta describes how Bulgaria, only recently independent from the Ottomans, was wracked by internal dissent and economic privation during its transition from one empire's vassal state to another's. He also vividly depicts Berlin in the heady days before Hitler, and Georgia in its lawless post-Soviet days.[return][return]In addition to its innovative construction, Solo is beautifully written. In describing Bulgaria's past, its passages ring with majestic solemnity; in Ulrich's daydreams they throb with poetic intimacy. Highly recommended, and I hope we see more from this young author. ( )
  Dolmance | Oct 28, 2015 |
A genuinely original book of tremendous power and grace. The writing is gorgeous, the style entirely original, with a strange and haunting story that begins in straightforward fashion – the memories of a 100 year old man from Sophia looking back on his life.

His story stops and we’re suddenly introduced to a group of new characters living apparently unconnected lives in new locations. Slowly the story corkscrews back on itself and connections and shared histories begin to appear. My only disappointment was that the obscenely hideous Khatuna didn't get what was coming to her.

One of the most unusual books I’ve ever read, surprisingly easy to digest. Gripping, unique and highly recommended. ( )
  MayaP | Jun 16, 2012 |
After reading 'Solo' and then taking a step back and reflecting on the book, I was able to appreciate Rana Dasgupta's writing. Dasgupta brings us a story about a man, Ulrich, his life, one of ordinary nature. There is no flash, no great success for Ulrich. He is a man who lived, who lost, who wanted to be someone, to be someone who did something great. But, as he reflects on his life we see that to him, his life fell short, there were points where a different choice could have pushed him to the life he wanted.

In the second half of the book, Ulrich conjures up daydreams. Daydreams in which his life winds and twists into a modern day story. Characters from his past take new shape and take on a new life. However, the pain, the sorrow, the triumphs, the hopes, the unfulfilled dreams, the friendships and love that took place in the first half resonate throughout.

Overall a great book, but one, that I had to reflect a bit once finished to see all that it was ( )
  dianag27 | Mar 31, 2012 |
In a dilapidated building in Sofia, a blind old man is reflecting on his past life. This superbly narrated story of his dreams, loves, downfall and piecing together echoes the fate of his country through its struggle for independence, two world wars, communism and hangover capitalism. A string of satellite stories very cleverly completes the picture. This book is absolutely brillant and a delight to read. ( )
  timtom | Dec 31, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
In Solo – which is ultimately a meditation on what it means to measure success, failure and time itself – Rana Dasgupta, ... , has created a work that is both literary and compelling, a prize-worthy feat indeed.
added by lkernagh | editThe Globe and Mail (Aug 6, 2010)
 
Solo is mannered in its strangeness, but utterly unforgettable in its humanity. It hums the inner and outer melodies of a life lived solo, until it becomes a discordant symphony of the human condition. This lifts it from a freak show to the kind of "philharmonic" novel that reminds us why we will always need to tell the extraordinary stories of people's ordinary lives. So that, like Ulrich, we can sift through those hundred years when "the world itself has become nonsense", and see more deeply into the "great black ocean of forgotten things".
added by kidzdoc | editThe Guardian, Kapka Kassabova (Mar 28, 2009)
 
WHAT a delight to find a novelist unfazed by the 21st century, confidently tracing the wrong turnings of the past 100 years, soaring insightfully over the mess of global developments that constitute the quagmire of today.

What a delight to read a fiction writer fully astute about life, love, culture and politics, catching in his cross-hairs ideologies, sciences, personal relationships, the terrors of ageing, the madness of music, organised crime, family tragedies -- even the novel genre itself -- examining them with dazzling clarity.
added by kidzdoc | editThe Australian, Nigel Krauth (Jan 28, 2009)
 
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for my darling Monica
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The man has woken suddenly, in the dead zone of the night.
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But now he does not know what it means for a life to suceed or fail. How can a dog fail its life, or a tree? A life is just a quanitity; and he can no more see failure in it than he can see failure in a pile of earth, or a bucket of water. Failure and success are foreign terms to such blind matter.
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Book description
With an imaginative audacity and lyrical brilliance that puts him in the company of David Mitchell andAleksandar Hemon, Rana Dasgupta paints a portrait of a century though the story of a hundred-year-old blind Bulgarian man in a first novel that announces the arrival of an exhilarating new voice in fiction.

In the first movement of Solo we meet Ulrich, the son of a railroad engineer, who has two great passions: the violin and chemistry. Denied the first by his father, he leaves for the Berlin of Einstein and Fritz Haber to study the latter. His studies are cut short when his father’s fortune evaporates, and he must return to Sofia to look after his parents. He never leaves Bulgaria again. Except in his daydreams—and it is those dreams we enter in the volatile second half of the book. In a radical leap from past to present, from life lived to life imagined, Dasgupta follows Ulrich’s fantasy children, born of communism but making their way into a post-communist world of celebrity and violence.

Intertwining science and heartbreak, the old world and the new, the real and imagined, Solo is a virtuoso work.
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A one-hundred-year-old blind Bulgarian looks back on a long life marked by fantasies about what could have been, from a dashed ambition to play the violin and interrupted scientific studies to idyllic children and the end of Communism.

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