Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: La's Orchestra Saves the World

Book: La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
Finished: March 2010
Pages: 294
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"Music was her refuge. There was madness abroad, an insanity of killing and cruelty that defied understanding--unless one took the view that this violence had always been there and had merely been masked by a veneer of civilisation. La thought music disproved this. Reason, beauty, harmony: these were ultimately more real and powerful than any of the demons unleashed by dictators."

I didn't just like this book.
I loved it.
I have read a few books by McCall Smith and have always been amazed that it is a man writing those books--books whose main characters are women. Women characters who are so very real and believable.
Set in the English countryside during WWII, it is the story of hope, survival, not giving in, making do without, and finding love. Books about Britains being brave during the blitz always inspire me--to see a nation pull together and do what was necessary for survival inspires me.

When clueless La contemplates returning to the the city of London to live at the outset of the war, her friend currently in London had this to say:

"...Are you mad?...Listen La: anybody with any sense is trying to get out of London. Have you heard of the Luftwaffe down there in Suffolk? The point is that this is a very different city from the one you left.
I don't think you're grasping what I want to say. People are frightened, La. Anybody who is in a position to leave is thinking about it. They deny it, of course, but then everybody's trying to look brave. We have to, because if we started to show what we really felt the whole place would come to a grinding halt. In fact, we're frightened. London is not the place to be.

Some of the reviews I have read about this book slam it--saying it is virtually about nothing. That La's little orchestra accomplished nothing and certainly didn't save anyone.
I strongly disagree. Those readers totally missed the point of this book. Towards the end of the war, La was getting tired and discouraged and was ready to disband the little orchestra. Her military friend and fellow musician, Tim, desperately needed to talk her out of quitting:

<....I'm tired, I suppose. It's been fun, but you can't carry on indefinitely doing the same old thing, can you?

< "No La. That's where you're wrong. We have to do that same old thing. We have to."


<"Why? You ask why? Because your orchestra, La, stands for everything that we're doing. We meet once a month and play because that's what we do. It shows anybody who cares to look that we are not giving up. And none of us can give up, can we? If we give up what we're doing, than everything's lost. Believe me, La. Believe me. Your little orchestra means a lot to every one of those people playing in it. It means a lot to the chaps from the base. It means a lot to the sisters from Bury, to the old fellow who plays the tuba, to everyone. La. you are one of the things that are keeping us going. Don't you see that, La?"

<"You're right. We've got no alternative but to carry on. We--you and I-- can sit here and have our doubts about everything, but we can't let people see that, can we? And if the orchestra grinds to a halt, then people will know that we're giving up. They could think that, couldn't they?"

<(Tim smiled). "It could get back to Churchill. Somebody could whisper to him,
Bad news, sir. We've lost La's orchestra." (They both laughed....)"

This is surely not a little book about nothing.

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  1. I have to get a copy of this book! I love Alexander McCall Smith's writing, but have so busy reading other things that I haven't read any of his books since I started blogging (how sad is that?). I'm in a community band too, so I can relate to how much a community group like that means to people - having something like that to rely on when things go as badly as they did in WWII would surely be important.

  2. I just read the part where you said you loved it, and I patted the book beside me. I took it out from the library last week. Can't wait to read it!

  3. I am so thrilled that you loved this one...I did too. I find it so hard to believe that someone wrote that it was about nothing!! It was about those that couldn't fight on the front but instead fought and kept the homefires burning...this books was simply beautiful. Awesome review Kim!

  4. I've seen the reviews that say it's about nothing. Glad to see that you disagree.

    I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on the Book Reviews: WWII page on War Through the Generations.

    Diary of an Eccentric


Like everyone else....I so appreciate comments. :)