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Distant Music: A Novel

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A love affair reoccurs across six centuries in this novel set in Portugal. The story begins in 1429 on Madeira, an island consumed by a fire that has blazed for seven years. A young peasant girl, Esperanca, meets Emanuel, a Jewish boy on shore from a Portuguese sailing ship. The courtship blossoms when he teaches her to read, but they know they must separate when the ship A love affair reoccurs across six centuries in this novel set in Portugal. The story begins in 1429 on Madeira, an island consumed by a fire that has blazed for seven years. A young peasant girl, Esperanca, meets Emanuel, a Jewish boy on shore from a Portuguese sailing ship. The courtship blossoms when he teaches her to read, but they know they must separate when the ship leaves. From that first meeting and parting others flow across the centuries: each life is short and the couple faces peril, tenderness, and horror. What survives is love, the ache of longing, the awareness of something lost, the immensity of distance, and the fragility of human bonds.


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A love affair reoccurs across six centuries in this novel set in Portugal. The story begins in 1429 on Madeira, an island consumed by a fire that has blazed for seven years. A young peasant girl, Esperanca, meets Emanuel, a Jewish boy on shore from a Portuguese sailing ship. The courtship blossoms when he teaches her to read, but they know they must separate when the ship A love affair reoccurs across six centuries in this novel set in Portugal. The story begins in 1429 on Madeira, an island consumed by a fire that has blazed for seven years. A young peasant girl, Esperanca, meets Emanuel, a Jewish boy on shore from a Portuguese sailing ship. The courtship blossoms when he teaches her to read, but they know they must separate when the ship leaves. From that first meeting and parting others flow across the centuries: each life is short and the couple faces peril, tenderness, and horror. What survives is love, the ache of longing, the awareness of something lost, the immensity of distance, and the fragility of human bonds.

30 review for Distant Music: A Novel

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Lee Langley is a British writer. I have previously read and enjoyed Changes of Address (1987) and A House in Pondicherry (1995) but somehow missed Persistent Rumours (1992) the middle one in the prize-winning trilogy set in India where Langley was born. These books are now out-of-print, which is a pity. Distant Music is a departure not only in setting but also in style. If the cover makes you think of historical chick-lit, think again, because it's more adventurous than that. It's a story that sp Lee Langley is a British writer. I have previously read and enjoyed Changes of Address (1987) and A House in Pondicherry (1995) but somehow missed Persistent Rumours (1992) the middle one in the prize-winning trilogy set in India where Langley was born. These books are now out-of-print, which is a pity. Distant Music is a departure not only in setting but also in style. If the cover makes you think of historical chick-lit, think again, because it's more adventurous than that. It's a story that spans six centuries, featuring separate but linked stories about Esperança and Manuel: in 1429 as a peasant girl and a sailor in Madeira; in 1489 in Faro, Portugal, as a rich girl and a printer of maps; in 1855 in Lisbon as a bookish recluse and a bookseller; and in 2000 as a disorientated middle-aged woman and a jazz musician. The constant thread in the book is the persistence of frustrated love. BEWARE: SPOILERS The peasant girl Esperança yearns to learn to read the Hebrew Bible that Manual the Jewish sailor shows her, but it is not to be. She stubbornly refuses an offer of marriage, hoping Manual will return. She makes a life for herself by trading her body for grapevines so that she gradually acquires a vineyard and economic independence. The child she bears to her tormentor dies, so there is no issue. Yet later that century Esperança is a rich girl in Faro and somehow she 'recognises' Manuel who this time is a printer. To her father's dismay she leaves his house of luxury and converts to Judaism - and is then forced to flee when Jews are expelled first from Spain and then from Portugal. Esperança throws herself and her sole remaining child from the ship rather than submit to the captain's lust, so once again there is no issue. (By coincidence I read Distant Music the same day that I saw the film Sarah's Key and was struck yet again by the way Europe has for centuries tried to expel Jews from its borders. Sarah's Key is based on French complicity in the Nazi genocide of the Jews; the expulsion of the Jews in Distant Music is based on historical facts in Spain and Portugal.) Part 3 is also based on historical fact: there was a sort of Jack-the-Ripper preying on washer-women in Lisbon in the 19th century. In Langley's story the yearning to be educated reaches fruition for this Esperança - she shares her love of books with a bookseller who is accused of the crime so again class differences and religious persecution intervene. She has no children either. Although each story has puzzling references into the past, each is separate and absorbing. Once you surrender to the strangeness of it, the narrative works though there is a persistent sense of melancholy foreboding and you know things will end badly. It's when the millennium year bleeds into the stories from the past that it becomes surreal. In Part 4 Esperança was nicknamed Essie at school in England; as an adolescent she re-names herself Hope but in this story she is a middle-aged woman searching for identity and for her memories as she flees through busy London pursued by Mel (Emmanuel). The style of dialogue and setting is in marked contrast to the historical elements of the book and it's (deliberately) quite disorientating. It is in Part 4 that at times the pervasive thread of the Jew-as-Outsider threatens to overwhelm the story, particularly when the young people discuss Israeli politics. Langley's characters are relaxed about religion and there are tentative attempts to explore modernity v tradition, a vexed issue for Jews because they are still in recovery from the Nazi attempt to exterminate their identity forever. However it seems to me that there is a bit too much going on in Part 4 - perhaps this was meant to mirror the millenium angst of the period but the multiple examples of angst are too many for the author to explore properly or resolve. Still, this was an interesting book to read and has reminded me to keep an eye out for Langley's books at the library. Cross-posted at http:anzlitlovers.wordpress.com and scheduled for publication there on Jan 25 2011.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    This is a series of novellas that are love stories between a Christian women and a Jewish man all set in a setting of Portuguese persecution of Jews. The whole book is an illustration of “saudade”. “This untranslatable Portuguese term refers to the melancholic longing or yearning. A recurring theme in Portuguese and Brazilian literature, saudade evokes a sense of loneliness and incompleteness. Portuguese scholar Aubrey Bell attempts to distill this complex concept in his 1912 book In Portugal, d This is a series of novellas that are love stories between a Christian women and a Jewish man all set in a setting of Portuguese persecution of Jews. The whole book is an illustration of “saudade”. “This untranslatable Portuguese term refers to the melancholic longing or yearning. A recurring theme in Portuguese and Brazilian literature, saudade evokes a sense of loneliness and incompleteness. Portuguese scholar Aubrey Bell attempts to distill this complex concept in his 1912 book In Portugal, describing saudade as “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present.” I found the lack of resolution frustrating and unsatisfying.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jade Fang

    Loved this book. I really have trouble reading fiction. It kept my interested all the way through. I really enjoyed the overlapping story lines and history. :)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    3.5 stars. I read this because I'm going to Portugal soon and want a "feel" for the country's people and history. This book definitely gives one a view of history from the 15th century to the beginning of the 21st, particularly that of the Jewish people in Portugal. The love stories were quite haunting, especially the first two. For Esperanca and Emmanuel, there is a spark of recognition, but no memory each time they meet in a new, different time. 3.5 stars. I read this because I'm going to Portugal soon and want a "feel" for the country's people and history. This book definitely gives one a view of history from the 15th century to the beginning of the 21st, particularly that of the Jewish people in Portugal. The love stories were quite haunting, especially the first two. For Esperanca and Emmanuel, there is a spark of recognition, but no memory each time they meet in a new, different time.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ian Mapp

    Can't think why I added this to my To Read List - but there it is, number 4 out of 100s to catch up on. It may have been because I enjoyed Ferny - a love story across the centuries. This has a similar theme, although much more disjointed. Its four stories - starting out in 15th Century Madeira, where a young lady falls in love with a Jew. Then the time frame jumps on - a few years to the expulsion of Jews from Iberia, to the 18th Century and finally the present time. The characters losely join the s Can't think why I added this to my To Read List - but there it is, number 4 out of 100s to catch up on. It may have been because I enjoyed Ferny - a love story across the centuries. This has a similar theme, although much more disjointed. Its four stories - starting out in 15th Century Madeira, where a young lady falls in love with a Jew. Then the time frame jumps on - a few years to the expulsion of Jews from Iberia, to the 18th Century and finally the present time. The characters losely join the story up, basically its a love story with reincarnation as a theme, with the same souls falling in love at different periods. The first couple of stores resonated well, with the drama of a flight from religious persecution but by the third story, it badly lost its way. Last story, set in 20th Century London, completely passed my by and the relevance of the entire work was lost on me. Turned into a chore.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Susana

    Li a edição portuguesa com o título "Um amor para a eternidade" publicada pelo Círculo de Leitores já há alguns anos atrás. Um livro sobre destinos cruzados, amores perdidos no tempo e o destino. Mistura contemporâneo com histórico, à medida que vamos acompanhando as vidas passadas das personagens até ao seu encontro final. Aconselhado para quem gosta ou tem paciência para dramas. Li a edição portuguesa com o título "Um amor para a eternidade" publicada pelo Círculo de Leitores já há alguns anos atrás. Um livro sobre destinos cruzados, amores perdidos no tempo e o destino. Mistura contemporâneo com histórico, à medida que vamos acompanhando as vidas passadas das personagens até ao seu encontro final. Aconselhado para quem gosta ou tem paciência para dramas.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    This novel relates four loves stories all connected to Portugal and the island of Madeira. The implication is that the same story is continued in four different eras through the persistance of the spirits and/or memories of the original couple.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rashmeet Kaur

    Although I am not a love story lover, this book struck me as extraordinary. Its a beautiful tale of tragedy, love and struggle.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Arja Salafranca

    A beautiful story about reincarnation across time, connections lost, remade, and re-remembered. Hauntingly beautiful.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Leandra Jordaan

  11. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  13. 4 out of 5

    Janet Brown

  14. 4 out of 5

    RebuiltByBooks

  15. 4 out of 5

    Maria

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jody R

  18. 5 out of 5

    colin j duffy

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mary Kate

  21. 4 out of 5

    Seenie

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anthea

  23. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Barros

  26. 4 out of 5

    Roslyn

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melinda Brasher

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rebeccation

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joanna Lefave

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gonçalo

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