Monday, January 23, 2006

The Drink and Dream Teahouse by Justin Hill

The Drink and Dream Teahouse

Author: Justin Hill

ISBN: 0753813203 / 0-7538-1320-3 (UK edition)

Publisher: Phoenix (paperback)

Blurb from the back of the book:

When Space Rocket Factory Number Two closes down in the small Chinese town of Shaoyang, it is the signal for the old culture to confront the new. Party Secretary Li cannot cope, and commits suicide, but not before daubing a series of slogans onto sheets of rice paper and hanging them outside his bedroom window (Our Leaders Are Drunk On The Taste Of Corruption reads one; The Party Officials Are Screwing Our Daughters, reads another).Those left behind have to clear up after him: Old Zhu has to keep Party Secretary Li's ashes in the bottom of his wardrobe. On the other side of the courtyard, their aria singing neighbour Madam Fan is temporarily silenced by the tragedy. Meanwhile Old Zhu's son, Da Shan, has returned from the city and fallen in love with not one but two childhood sweethearts.


After reading "Mao: The Untold Story" by Jung Chang and being so weighed down by Mao's atrocities and the suffering of the Chinese people, I vowed not to touch, for a long,long time, another book with even the slightest reference to the Revolution or Mao. But then, this little gem of a book was pressed into my hands by a bookcrosser in the UK urging me to read it, and I am so glad I did! The gloom has lifted; I am now ready and able to take on any and all books about China again!!!

This is a book that explores the recent history of China through a set of very enjoyable characters, with each character representative of some phase in China's contemporary history. Strictly speaking that should make them stereotypes or symbols, but the author gives them each such unique personalities that they rise aboove being typecast. Also, he fleshes them out so well you almost feel like you could reach out and touch them.

It seems to me, it would be hard to find anywhere in the world, two successive generations (the Mao generation and China's modern generation) that were so different. Not only did they differ idealogically, but on a social-economic level as well, with Communism giving way to Western-like capitalism. This is a story of how these two cultures collide and learn by trial, error and much compromise to live with each other. What doesn't appear to have changed however is the Confucian display of filial piety of the younger towards the older despite the fact that modern ways of thinking constantly clash with tradional stubborn views.

Justin Hill is a wonderful, believable story teller and compels the reader to become an avid, addicted spectator in the everyday lives of his characters. On the surface these characters have very ordinary lives, they don't do anything special, and yet, Hill makes them come alive to us in an extraordinary way. He fills the book with vivid descriptions of their feelings,their conversations, dreams and insecurities; their homes, the market places, the food-- sigh-- especially the food (I was constantly hungry as I read the book!) and in doing so, he shows us a China few tourists will ever see or enjoy.

It amazes me that the author is an Englishman---he captures the cultural sensibilities of the Chinese so vividly, I could have been fooled into thinking that he was a native of China. Even the "Taipei Times" praised the book for its "linguistic naturalness" and suggested that if there are any plans afoot for translating the book into Chinese, "...Taiwan's own energetic publishing houses shouldn't let it (the opportunity) pass..."

So impressed am I with this novel, I can hardly wait to read his next one, "Passing Under Heaven" which is set in 9th century China at the twilight of the Tang Dynasty and their Empire.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Coming Attraction - Amazon Fishbowl!

Bill Maher of the infamous and now defunct, "Politically Incorrect" show and author of "When you Ride Alone You Ride With Bin Ladin" among many others, has been picked by to host a weekly online talk show called "Amazon Fishbowl With Bill Maher". Bill Maher will record for the show when he's on hiatus from his current show, "Real Time With Bill Maher", on HBO .

According to the New York Times, "...the half-hour show will have a format familiar to any late-night television viewer, with a monologue by Mr. Maher, followed by an interview with an author, a conversation with a filmmaker and a performance by a musician or musical group.

Not surprisingly, the common theme among the guests, who will be chosen by Amazon, is that they will have products for sale through its online site. As guests are talking, Amazon will display buttons that will let viewers instantly buy the book, DVD or CD they are discussing, as well as links to pages with their other works or those by similar artists.

Each segment will also feature a commercial of sorts for United Parcel Service, which is sponsoring the show. In those ads, a celebrity will make a surprise delivery to an Amazon customer. The program will be Webcast live every Thursday night at 11 Eastern Standard Time, beginning June 1..."

" 'Amazon Fishbowl with Bill Maher' has a simple, yet powerful mission -- to help our customers discover new books, films, and music, and to help the creators of these works find new audiences," said Kathy Savitt, Vice President for Strategic Communications, Content, and Initiatives. "We believe that Bill Maher's interviews with some of the world's most renowned and up-and-coming artists and entertainers will offer customers unique insight into the motivations and inspirations behind the books, films, and music they love."

Personally, I applaud Amazon for picking Bill Maher. I love his forthright style and his sense of humor; best of all, he's not afraid to ask tough questions. Ofcourse, this being a show with a non-political agenda, he will be asked to steer clear from politics, still, I have no doubt he will make this an entertaining and enlightening half-hour, so watch out for this one folks!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Little Children" by Tom Perrotta

List Price: $13.95
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0312315732
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin


Curledup: Review Interview

Wikipedia: Biography of author


A satirical look at the suburbs and suburbia.


Living in the suburbs as I do, I was curious to read Tom Perrotta's "Little Children" set in a suburb somewhere in "Anytown", USA. Recently, these suburban neighborhoods with their pretty white picket fences, well-trimmed lawns, the fenced off pool etc., have come in for a lot of flack---with the main accusation being that the suburbs are no longer utopias where hard-working, educated people get to fulfill the "American Dream', but rather centres of mindless consumption and stifling social conformity. Films, newspaper articles and books allude to the not-so-nice-goings-on behind the shiny new doors and pristine lawns. I don't know about that but I do understand the accusation of social conformity. I have seen most Suburbanites live very conventional lives because they believe it is expected of them to do so.

"...most people just fell in line like obedient little children, doing exactly what society expected of them at any given moment, all the while pretending that they'd actually made some sort of choice..." pg. 9

Anyhow, welcome to a great cast of characters in "Little Children". You have the conventional suburbanites - the playground mom in a spandex work-out suit seen religiously pushing her toddler in its stroller to and from the playground, the mom who dreams of Harvard for her 4-year old, the stay-at-home dad who is lusted after by all the moms, the ladies of the local bookclub and so on, but you also have a couple of rebels that want to break away from the social pressures that bind and imprison them in Suburbia (remember the movie, 'The Truman Show"?). In other words, all Perrotta's characters are recognizable and believable, (although you might have to suspend disbelief occasionally at some of the things they do.) and because they are so recognizable , you are bound to either see yourself in them or someone you know.

The title "Little Children" can seem a little misleading at first, because really, this is not so much a book about children , as it is about parents and the stupefied boredom that envelopes them when their only job is to look after their toddlers. But as you read further, you realize that the author is probably referring to these bored adult suburbanites as 'little children'. The novel is also about the stress of having to maintain a happy facade even when your life is crumbling about you. Although the prose is just pedestrian, this is a well-constructed story and the author does a great job of examining suburbia, warts and all.

My favorite part in the book was when the bookclub ladies discussed "Madame Bovary". Infact, the book opens with a statement from the classic Flaubert novel, ..."I have a lover! I have a lover!" she kept repeating to herself, reveling in the thought as though she were beginning a second puberty... Madame Bovary has always been one of my favorite reads and these ladies, courtesy Tom Perrotta ofcourse, provide some wonderful insights to her character!

Finally, "Little Children" is being made into a film by New Line Cinema, starring Kate Winslet (in the lead role as Sarah) and Jennifer Connelly. It will be directed by Todd Field (In the Bedroom ) and both he and Tom Perrotta have co-written the screenplay.

Shooting has started already and the movie is slated for a summer release, so of course you will want to be seen with your copy on the subway before it's in the picturehouse!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

If Bedspreads could speak...

Whenever I struggle to describe a reading experience, I find it helpful to compare it with food. Bizarre, I know, but it helps!

For instance, a nice, quick and easy read that takes about a day or so, could be described as a refreshing, long gulp of iced lemonade in the middle of summer. I see "Almost French"
or even, "Fried Eggs with Chopsticks" fitting comfortably in that category.

Then there are those books that go down smoothly, like rich, melted Belgian chocolate, filling you with endorphins - the experience is so pleasurable, you never want it to end---I would nominate "Memoirs of a Geisha" for the "melted chocolate" honor.

There are those books that are special, like your mom's Sunday dinner---they are the Roast Beef, Baked Ham, or Chicken Vindaloo (what I would have in my home) of the food world. These books often satisfy emotionally and fill you up. "The Kite Runner" and "Snowflower and the Secret Fan" would qualify for these "Sunday Specials".

And then there are those exotic treats, the ones you try when you are feeling a little adventurous, like the Turkish Delight or the Tibetan Yak Butter Tea. You have no clue how you are going to feel after you try it, but you can't help yourself! Sometimes, the experience is so good you make a regular practice of trying it and at other times, you wish you hadn't bothered. The book I am about to review would fit perfectly in this category.

It's been written by first time author, Raj Kamal Jha and takes place in the busy, dirty, crowded city of Calcutta (famous for the Mother Theresa "Home for the Destitute). In a nutshell, it involves a nameless narrator who has custody of his dead sister's infant girl for a single night, and he spends that night writing her stories about her family, so that when she is adopted, no matter where in the world she goes, no matter who her new family is, she will always know of her origins and her history. While he writes, the baby is fast asleep in the next room on the blue bedspread that the narrator and his sister used when they were young. The blue bedspread has been privvy to many an event in the narrator's life - it is the silent voyeur.

The prose is very lyrical, but in a stark, bare kind of way, or so it seems to me. The book revolves around the theme of family relationships, but in a slightly bizarre and oddly disturbing fashion. If there was just a single word to describe this book, I would choose "unsettling". However, usettling isn't always bad. I personally didn't care very much for the book, but Jha has had some very favorable reviews from people far more knowledgable than myself, so, it can't be all bad.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

RE: The Story of Chicago May

Date: Wed, 11 Jan 2006 11:09:37 -0800 (PST)

From: "Lotus Reads"

Subject: Re: The Story of Chicago May

To:"Judy Dean"

Dear Judy,

I wanted to thank you for letting me know about "Wild Rose: Rose O'Neale Greenhow, Civil War Spy: A True Story." by Ann Blackman. I loved how Rose, a Southerner by birth and conviction, became a social power in Washington and ran a successful spy ring for the Confederacy. Knowing how the feminist in you loves stories of brazen women, I thought you might enjoy reading Irish writer Nuala O' Faolain's (NOO-luh O'FWAE-lin) new book, "The Story of Chicago May".

The protagonist will intrigue you. She is May Duignan , a nineteen year old Irish lass, described by legend as having a baby face, big blue eyes and rich, thick auburn hair. The book opens with her running away from her small, poor Irish town called Edenbern, the same evening her mother was in labor with her youngest child. As if the act of running away wasn't audacious enough in itself, but she took with her all the family savings, the equivalent of $5000!!! She got to a port and with great chutzpah bought herself a first class ticket by steamer to Manhattan with the stolen money (only 2% of Irish immigrants ever traveled by first class in those days - steerage was the more common form of travel). What spunk, huh? Judy, do you remember when we were nineteen? We left home for the first time, but only to go on a three-day camping trip together, less than one hundred miles from your backyard! And remember how we just HAD to call home every few hours so that our parents knew we were OK?

Anyway, back to May. After she arrives in Manhattan, her money doesn't last long and not having any education or skills for decent employment or the desire to work at any factory jobs (which is where most new immigrants went to work), she falls in with the infamous Dalton gang and marries one of its members, Dal Churchill. Living the kind of violent lives they do, I am not surprised that she is soon widowed and turns to the streets (brothels) for her livelihood. She is not a prostitute (although I don't doubt she did occasionally have sex with men for money), she prefers to call herself a "badger", a small- time con artist who makes her money by robbing unsuspecting men who want to use her " services". She becomes particularly famous for "her method of biting the stones out of men's scarf pins while she amorously pretended to bury her face against their chests." Later she manages to find a small part in a dancing girl chorus and soon meets the man who is about to change her life - for better or worse, I won't tell you here. You'll have to read the book to find out, but if you absolutely MUST peek, Judy, go here!

Nuala O'Faolain has done some wonderful research for this remarkable book! She has actually travelled to many of the places Chicago May stayed in and described them in such detail, you feel like you have stepped into turn-of-the-century London with its bawdy pubs, Chicago with its wooden buildings and sidewalks made of boards, Ireland with its peasant houses with their dirt floors and flitches of bacon hung to smoke from the rafters of the kitchen. May also travelled to Cairo, Paris, Belgium and South America. Gangs in those days thought of nothing of traveling long distances to engage in crime.

(Picture of Chicago May in 1907, courtesy The New York Times)

She also paints a vivid picture of the kind of lives prostitutes lived in that era. Most of them spent their days either very drunk or sedated with a cocktail of various drugs. I did like their outfits, however, Judy! In pictures included in the book, you see them in long, flouncy skirts with very narrow waists, and big, wide-brimmed, lace-trimmed hats,a boa of black feathers thrown around their necks---they look like such genteel ladies, it's hard to believe that prostitution was their profession

Ms. O' Faolain, based her book on Chicago May's crudely written autobiography titled, “Mary Churchill Sharp, Queen of the Crooks” which was published posthumously. The curious thing, Ms. O' Faolain tells us, is that May's autobiography imparted information about events in her life, but contained no reflections of any kind; she doesn't tell you what the events meant to her...are we to deduce from that that Chicago May never thought about her life? That she just lived for the day without taking lessons from her past into the future? With such a paucity of emotions in Chicago May's own book, it is left to Nuala O'Faolain to fill in the gaps---to guess at her thoughts, to deduce why she did the things she did.

In one of the most poignant scenes in the book, Chicago May travels back to Ireland to see her family. Now usually most emigrants to the US are welcomed back with open arms. They are given the place of honor by the fireplace and the whole neighborhood comes to visit them,a dancing party is organized which lasted for days, but May's family were unsure how to welcome her, after all, this was Catholic Ireland at its most devout. They firmly believed that May chose the side of the devil when she chose her profession. The Irish of those days hated and feared sexuality, they were suspicious of people that dressed to the nines like she did..."she wasn't only bad in a virtuous place; she was modern in an antique world." It's no wonder to me then, that she left Ireland again as fast as she could and never returned.

In closing, I cannot strictly call this a biography and nor is it completely fiction - it falls into the grey area somewhere between, however, Nuala O'Faolain, being Irish herself, must have a fairly good inkling as to how another Irish woman in those circumstances must have felt, so although there is a lot she has had to make up with regard to Chicago May, I still think it's an excellent piece of work. I do hope you get to read it, Judy.

Anyhow, I must run. The kids need to be picked up from school. I hope your little ones are doing well. Give them my love.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

News Alert: 'A Million Little Pieces' called a fraud.

I don't often post anything other than book and movie reviews on my blog, but since this piece of news is doing the rounds on almost every newspaper this morning, I thought it was my duty to post it here.

It regards the very popular non-fiction memoir by James Frey, "A Million Little Pieces" - about his descent into hell after being addicted to alcohol and drugs for many years and how he managed to pull himself out of it. Oprah Winfrey picked it for her viewer's book club, prompting the sales of the book to touch over two million this year.

According to the Smoking Gun report, Frey, may have exaggerated some of the facts in his book, with inflated claims about his criminal record and about his involvement in an accident that killed two high school students. Also, as a lot of bloggers have been pointing out - As a publisher, it should be a bad sign when almost every character in Frey's book that could bear witness to the unusual goings-on in his life, has either committed suicide, been murdered, died of AIDS, been sentenced to life in prison, gone missing, landed in an institution for the criminally insane, or fell off a fishing boat never to be seen again. "

Apparently Frey originally intended to market the book as fiction, but later changed his mind when there were no takers--- something that should have set off alarm bells for a serious publisher. Indeed, according to people that have read the book, Frey's own accounts of his life were varied and inconsistent. As I count memoirs among my favorite genres to read, it does make me slightly uneasy about the liberties that authors take with bending the truth in order to make the book more marketable. Frey is not the only one to have accused of this in recent times - Augusten Burroughs, author of "Running with Scissors" has been taken to court over many of the claims he made in his bizarre memoir about the psychiatrist's family who adopted him.

I hate to think 'we've been had' by both, James Frey and Augusten Burroughs. Unfortunately, this is going to make me very skeptical about memoirs in the future.

Read the Washington Post report here
Read the CNN report here
Read the New York Times report here

For an interview with William Bastone, editor of, go here

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Babyji by Abha Dawesar

ISBN: 1400034566
Format: Paperback, 384pp
Pub. Date: February 2005
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group

You know what they say about books - there's the good, the bad and the mediocre. Well, this book by Abha Dawesar falls in the mediocre category. I find nothing really to recommend it, except, that it is a quick read. It's very hard for me to write a review about a book I didn't like, so, I will direct you to the review at "Village Voice" instead.

I'd be happy to trade this book, so if you want it, e-mail me and I will send it to you.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Top Of The Class - Frank McCourt's "Teacher Man"

Author: Frank McCourt

Publisher: Fourth Estate / Harper Collins

Format: Hardback

ISBN: 0-00-717398-9

"Angela's Ashes", Frank McCourt's first book in his trilogy of memoirs, about growing up in an impoverished Catholic family in Ireland, is one of my all time favorite books, so it is with baited breath that I waited to read "Teacher Man" which is McCourt's third book and in which he reminisces about his years as a high school English teacher, first in a couple of vocational High Schools and finally, in New York's prestigious "Stuyvesant" High School (the Ivy League of High Schools).

McCourt has not lost his touch as master storyteller and I laughed out loud at some of the anecdotes involving his students. For instance, on his first day at school as a teacher, a sandwich fight broke out and the sandwich in question, a beautiful baloney sandwich filled with tomatoes, onions, pickles, drizzled with garlic olive oil and packed between two robust slices of home-made Italian bread, landed on the floor near his desk. As he bent to pick it up he couldn't help but swoon with the aroma of it and before he knew what he was doing, he had taken a bite out of it, much to the kids' astonishment! To his bad luck, the principal happened to be passing by his classroom and poor Frank McCourt was reprimanded for eating lunch in the classroom, at 9:00am!

Frank McCourt realized early in his teaching career that the kids would do anything to stop him from teaching them "course material" like grammar, syntax, essay writing etc. They would ask him questions about his life back in Ireland just to take his mind off the teaching. When McCourt realized that he decided to incorporate stories of his impoverished childhood---his alcoholic father, his desperate mother, his starving and cold brothers and sisters into the lessons and soon his class became the most popular class in the high school, "...they flocked to my classes. The room was packed. They sat on windowsills..."

He was a very creative teacher, too and instead of giving the kids run of the mill reports like "write an essay on poverty", etc., he made his class do unorthodox assignments like making up excuse notes from Adam and Eve to God explaining why they ate of the forbidden fruit (this idea had its genesis after McCourt saw the creativity in the "excuse notes" his students forged in the name of their parents!). As he said in a TV interview, "You couldn't get them to write a composition but when it comes to excuses there were masses of English prose,"

One time (and sadly, this is not in the book but he talks about it at every interview) he made them write obituaries for their teachers - "not a single teacher died peacefully in bed. They suffered the horrors. They were skinned alive Â… They fell off cliffs. They were crushed between two buses. "It was wonderful," he recounts with undisguised glee in another interview with Canadian Television, "I hesitated to show them to the teachers involved -- so I would cross out the names and the teachers thought it was hilarious." Yet when McCourt challenged his pupils to write obituaries about themselves, the tone of their writing shifted.
"All the boys died peacefully in bed surrounded by beautiful women,"

Some of the other fun stories in the book include the time he took twenty-eight inner city, African-American girl students to the movies and so unused were they to outings that he had a hard time he had controlling them, especially after they were all pumped up with sugar from cookies, candy and pink lemonade! Or the other time he arranged a picnic in the park during school hours to teach his class "food vocabulary" and the time he got his students to read from a cookery book to the accompaniment of music by their peers- all this while students in other teachers' classes were studying "Moby Dick" and the poetry of Walt Whitman . *Sigh* How I wish I could have had a teacher like Mr. McCourt!

This is a book that would make a great gift to your High School teacher (if he or she hasn't already bought it) ; it also makes a great read for parents with children in senior school because it takes you through a teacher's day in the classroom and makes you ask yourself, what really makes a good teacher? One that sticks with the syllabus and imparts to your child the desired knowledge, or one that is a good role model creating an interest and a curiosity about life in your child, but who doesn't exactly "teach"? We also need to ask ourselves if teachers in North America are getting their fair due? They have the future of America in their classes, but are we paying them enough to look after this future of ours? Do we acknowledge their efforts often enough?

McCourt, does indulge in a little rambling every now and then, but for the most part this is a solid book and highly entertaining---it will take you down memory lane to the time you were in high school and will have you reminiscing about your favorite teachers and any quirky assignments they may have had you do.

Further Reading:

Interview with London's "The Independent"

One of Frank McCourt's students reviews Teacher Man

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Dearest Beloved Little Wife: Two books on Mozart

When I tell friends I am reading a biography on Mozart, one of the first questions I am asked is, "Is the portrayal of Mozart in Peter Shaffer's
anything like the real Mozart?" That can be a difficult question to answer because most people cannot relate the "goofball" (remember the high-pitched irritating laugh?) in "Amadeus" to the genius who wrote "The Magic Flute". Truth is, the real Mozart was a little of both. There is no doubt of his genius - his music is proof of that, but there was also a mischeivous side to him that made him enjoy "toilet" language (there is an entire book dedicated to Mozart's rather coarse and vulgar letters) and that drove him very often to set everyday things to music. For instance, the musical, "Hair Ribbon Trio" was inspired by the time, Constanza, his wife, lost her hair ribbon. They both set out to look for the ribbon but couldn't find it. Later in the evening, when a friend came visiting, the friend found C's ribbon and Mozart set a whole opera to this little domestic incident!

This year, the city of Vienna is getting ready to celebrate
Mozart's 250th birthday and I thought this was the ideal time to revisit the composer---his life and his works, through two wonderful books, "Mozart's Women" and "Marrying Mozart".

"Mozart's Women: His Family, His Friends and His Music" is an illuminating biography by conductor and Mozart expert, Jane Glover which she tells through the perceptions of the women that surrounded Mozart---his sister Narnelle, his wife Constanza, his dear mother Mario Anna Mozart and a bevy of other women Mozart touched in his young life.

I really like that the author chose to tell Mozart's life story 'through the eyes of these women' because Mozart was one of the first composers to write arias and music especially for women and, as the London Times puts it: 'these three (women) had a profound influence on the composer as both man and artist, and clearly contributed to his unrivalled understanding of female psychology in his depiction of women in his mature operas.'

Ms. Glover begins her scholarly and richly detailed book with the composer's family life, which was dominated by his rather strict and autocratic father, Leopold Mozart and the story of his beloved, equally gifted sister Maria Anna, affectionately known as Nannerl. I was especially pleased to have learned so much about Nannerl (playing a duet in this picture with Mozart) because other biographies of Mozart have not been so forthcoming about her. Apparently she shared Mozart's extraordinary talent - so that when Wolfgang was seven and Nannerl twelve, their father took them on a tour of the royal courts of
Europe. As Glover says: "Having one prodigy was special; having two was astonishing." but being a woman, Nannerl wasn't given the same opportunities as Mozart and her career was shelved in favor of his. To make matters worse, she made a bad marriage to a widower with five children, moved to the remote country where the harsh winters spoiled her piano and she was unable to play a single note. I can only imagine how this harsh life might have embittered her as an adult.

Aside from his sister, the other woman to have played a huge part in Mozart's life, was his wife Constanza. The author includes many of Mozart's notes to Constanza from his travels and most of them are just overflowing with affection and love for his 'dearest little wife' as he loved calling her. The letters are so affectionate, I just have to include one here:

"Dearest Little Wife,
Every other moment I look at your portrait--and weep partly for joy, partly for sorrow. . . Look after your health which is so precious to me and fare well, my darling! . . . I kiss you millions of times most tenderly and am ever yours, true till death. stu--stu"

Again, many of us who watched the movie "Amadeus" probably have the notion that Constanza was an immature, silly and flirtatious young woman, but according to Jane Glover, Constanze, who despite spending much of the marriage either pregnant, looking after babies or ill, took the family's dire financial affairs in hand, organising a house move, loans and publication of her husband's works. When Mozart died, at the young age of 35, sickened by the strain of creating his epic "Requiem Mass", Constanze was 29, with a newborn son and another aged seven. She survived Mozart by atleast half a century and went on to protect and preserve Mozart's legacy.

So, while the first part of the book introduces the reader to Mozart's family, the middle part of the book describes the genesis of many of Mozart's popular pieces of music, including the "Figaro", "The Magic Flute" and the "Requiem". The story of the "Requiem" (death mass) is particularly poignant as Mozart died before he could complete it, and it is the popular belief that it was the strain of writing it that contributed to his death.

The third part of the book is devoted to 'life after Mozart'. Mozart was penniless and forgotten when he died, and was buried in an unmarked grave as it was tradition among the common people of Vienna at that time. Constanza worked very hard to settle his debts, made sure that the "Requiem" was completed and then moved on to find publishers for Mozart's entire repertoire of music. Many people helped her with this project including the man who would become her next husband, Georg Nissen.

Nissen was a Danish diplomat and he was a calm, stable influence on Constanza's life and well loved by her two sons, Karl Thomas ( he became an Austrian govt. official) and Franz Xavier (whom they later called Amadeus Mozart). Both sons called Nissen 'Father' for the rest of their lives and had nothing but the greatest of affection for him. Nissen was one of the first to write Mozart's biography, but died before he could complete it. The rest of Jane Glover's biography is packed solid with wonderful and loving anecdotes of Mozart's sons and their lives. Unfortunately, neither one of them had any children, so the Mozart lineage ended when the last son died in 1858. I never dreamed Mozart's life story would touch me in such a profound way, but it has and much credit must go to Ms. Glover for bringing such emotional depth to this finely researched biography.

"Marrying Mozart" by Stephanie Caldwell, is a work of historical fiction and is a gentle, sensitive story of the Weber (of which, Constanza his wife, was one) sisters (the musical equivalent of the Bronte sisters) and their interaction with Mozart. Because he was so close to them, each one of their lives has intertwined with his at some point and this is what makes the book such a fascinating read.

(Featured book jacket: German edition)