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Music for Wartime
Cover of Music for Wartime
Music for Wartime
Stories
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Named a must-read by the Chicago Tribune, O Magazine, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and The L Magazine
Named one of the best short story collections of 2015 by Bookpage and Kansas City Star

Rebecca Makkai's first two novels, The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House, have established her as one of the freshest and most imaginative voices in fiction. Now, the award-winning writer, whose stories have appeared in four consecutive editions of The Best American Short Stories, returns with a highly anticipated collection bearing her signature mix of intelligence, wit, and heart.
A reality show producer manipulates two contestants into falling in love, even as her own relationship falls apart. Just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a young boy has a revelation about his father's past when a renowned Romanian violinist plays a concert in their home. When the prized elephant of a traveling circus keels over dead, the small-town minister tasked with burying its remains comes to question his own faith. In an unnamed country, a composer records the folk songs of two women from a village on the brink of destruction.
These transporting, deeply moving stories—some inspired by her own family history—amply demonstrate Makkai's extraordinary range as a storyteller, and confirm her as a master of the short story form.
"Richly imagined."
Chicago Tribune

"Impressive."
O, The Oprah Magazine

"Engrossing."
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Inventive."
W Magazine


From the Hardcover edition.

Named a must-read by the Chicago Tribune, O Magazine, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and The L Magazine
Named one of the best short story collections of 2015 by Bookpage and Kansas City Star

Rebecca Makkai's first two novels, The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House, have established her as one of the freshest and most imaginative voices in fiction. Now, the award-winning writer, whose stories have appeared in four consecutive editions of The Best American Short Stories, returns with a highly anticipated collection bearing her signature mix of intelligence, wit, and heart.
A reality show producer manipulates two contestants into falling in love, even as her own relationship falls apart. Just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a young boy has a revelation about his father's past when a renowned Romanian violinist plays a concert in their home. When the prized elephant of a traveling circus keels over dead, the small-town minister tasked with burying its remains comes to question his own faith. In an unnamed country, a composer records the folk songs of two women from a village on the brink of destruction.
These transporting, deeply moving stories—some inspired by her own family history—amply demonstrate Makkai's extraordinary range as a storyteller, and confirm her as a master of the short story form.
"Richly imagined."
Chicago Tribune

"Impressive."
O, The Oprah Magazine

"Engrossing."
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Inventive."
W Magazine


From the Hardcover edition.
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    THE SINGING WOMEN

    The composer, with his tape recorder, crossed the barricades at night and crawled through the hills into the land his father had fled. Between the clotheslines, three cottages were still inhabited. Three old women still tended gardens and made soup and dusted—once a month—the trinkets of those killed. Once a month, they made their way through empty houses, empty streets, empty stores, empty churches. Once a month, they spoke the names of the dead.

    The composer surprised the three women by speaking their dialect, knowing their words for spoon and daffodil and hat. At first they feared he'd been sent by the dictator as a spy—yet who but the son of a native son would know the story of the leaf child, the rhyme about the wolf maiden?

    He lived with them a week and recorded (this had been his purpose) their songs, of which they were the world's last three singers. A song of lamentation, a song of mourning, a song of protest and despair. They had forgotten the song for weddings.

    Back safe across the border, the composer set scores around the songs, made records of string instruments wailing behind the women's voices. He was fulfilled: He had preserved, before its last breath, their culture.

    When the dictator learned of the record, he became enraged. Not over the songs (what was a lamentation, to a dictator?) but over the evidence of life in a village he had been assured was wiped out in its entirety.

    One October morning, he sent his men to finish the job.

    (But I've made it sound like a fable, haven't I? I've lied and turned two women into three, because three is a fairy tale number.)

    THE WORST YOU EVER FEEL

    When the nine-fingered violinist finally began playing, Aaron hid high up on the wooden staircase, as far above the party as the ghosts. He was a spider reigning over the web of oriental rug, that burst of red and black and gold, and from his spider limbs stretched invisible fibers, winding light and sticky around the forty guests, around his parents, around Radelescu the violinist. There were thinner strands, too, between people who had a history together of love or hate, and all three ghosts were tied to Radelescu, to his arcing bow. But Aaron held the thickest strings, and when he thought, breathe, all the people breathed.

    After dinner, his mother had not nodded him up to his toothpaste and away from the drunken conversations as she had when he was nine, ten, eleven, and Aaron wondered whether she'd forgotten in the wine and noise, or whether this was something new, something he could expect from now on. To be safe he'd changed to pajama pants and a white T-shirt, so he could claim he'd come down for water. He remembered to muss his hair, staticky enough on its own but now a halo of rough brown in the bedroom mirror. Through the balusters, he watched the man and his violin duck in and out of the yellow cone of light that fell from the lamp above the piano. Yesterday morning, Aaron's mother had brought Radelescu a plate of scrambled eggs with parsley and toast as he sat at the bench, slowly picking out the chords of the accompaniment and marking the score. Tonight, she played the accompaniment for him.

    Aaron guessed that by moving in and out of the light, Radelescu was blinding himself to the room, to the eager faces and cradled wineglasses of the greedy listeners. Now, as the old man began to play faster, Aaron felt tired, and he needed the bathroom, but he didn't want to move himself from the wooden step and away from the music. His throat had been sore all day, glue and needles, but now he was able to forget that. He squinted to see the...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 15, 2015
    Doublings and parallels distinguish the 17 exceptionally well-told stories in Makkai's (The Hundred-Year House) outstanding debut story collection. In "November Story," a producer for a reality-based television program manipulates its participants into a romantic relationship even as she herself is manipulated in her relationship with her partner. In "Painted Ocean, Painted Ship," an English professor who teaches her pupils Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" experiences a poetically appropriate streak of misfortunes in her career and personal life when she herself accidentally kills an albatross. In "The Briefcase," a political refugee who assumes the identity of an imprisoned professor so thoroughly immerses himself in the man's life that he refuses to accept that he is not the professor when the professor's wife exposes his deception. The structural balance and order of these doublings contrast with the emotional lives of Makkai's characters, whose tenderly wrought frailties and inconsistencies make them seem all the more fallibly human—a quality beautifully showcased in "The Worst You Ever Feel," in which a young violinist of Romanian descent realizes that he has been made to travel with his father's aging mentor, who suffered under Nazi oppression, as compensation for his father's flight to freedom in America. Though these stories alternate in time between WWII and the present day, they all are set, as described in the story "Exposition," within "the borders of the human heart"—a terrain that their author maps uncommonly well.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2015
    Makkai triumphed with her first two novels (including "The Borrower", starring a librarian), and she's been anthologized four times in "The Best American Short Stories". All of which bodes well for this collection. The stories can't be easily pigeonholed--in one, a reality show producer gets two contestants to fall in love, while in another, a composer records the folk songs in a village that's about to be destroyed. But they promise to be heartfelt.

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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