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Geoffrey Talbot, a skilled British cricket player with a gift for languages, has taught at a boys' prep school for just one year before World War II breaks out and he signs up. Billy is seven years old in 1859 when his poverty-stricken parents choose him from among their five children to be sent to a British workhouse. In 2029, nine-year-old Elena Duranti is isolated from her peers by her brilliant mind and all-consuming curiosity; when her father brings home the orphan Bruno, the two soon bond as inseparable siblings. Jeanne is an uneducated, incurious, deeply religious peasant in 19th-century France who has been in service to the same family for as long as she can remember. And finally, in 1971, Brit Jack narrates the story of Anya, a troubled young hippie with a singing voice that stuns her listeners, captures hearts, and derails lives. VERDICT Faulks's (Birdsong) literary artistry is on gorgeous display as he brings to life five wildly disparate protagonists in stories linked by the strength of their characters, all challenged by the horrors of war, of abandonment, of the struggle between trust and faith, and of romance gone shockingly wrong. [See Prepub Alert, 6/11/12.]-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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In this masterful book, Faulks links the stories of five disparate lives into a long meditation on the intersection of fate and free will. Five discrete novellas range from 1800s France to Italy in 2029, examining how choices, impulses, and luck (both good and bad) shape lives: into the first, Faulks packs virtually a whole novel; in 1938, Geoffrey Talbot, a undistinguished prep school teacher, confronts the reality of the Holocaust in occupied France by going undercover in a concentration camp. In the middle of the 19th century, in England, seven-year-old Billy Webb's destitute parents ship him off to the workhouse, where in Dickensian style he grows up struggling through low-wage jobs; its blunt first-person narrator creates a vivid character in Billy. Fifteen years into the future, an accident reveals insights into "raised human consciousness," but Italian scientist Elena Duranti is still stymied by love, lending this novella a melancholic tone. Jeanne, a once-orphaned servant "said to be the most ignorant person" in her village in 1820s rural France, watches her family unravel with a wiser eye than they suspect; the novella's broad strokes and coy narration create a fablelike quality. The final novella, about Anya King, a singer in the Joni Mitchell mode, is narrated by her lover and collaborator, Jack, in America in the early 1970s. Stirring descriptions of the music business of that era and of Anya's own music reveal the seductive talent that led Jack to junk his own life in favor of helping her craft her masterpiece. What Faulks (Birdsong) risks sound twee and clever, and not unlike what David Mitchell did in Cloud Atlas, but this book transcends pat tropes through the beauty and clarity of Faulks's prose. Each world is drawn with precision, creating widely varied stories that are intensely absorbing, with language flowing and eddying to suit each one. Though there are subtle connections, characters' lives never cross; they are alive in their own worlds. Faulks resists assembling his parts into a thumping moral; his book is both bigger and less ambitious than that, a contemplation of human existence on the individual level. Highly recommended. Agent: Gillon Aitken, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.