The Soloist

by Mark Salzman

Hardcover, 1994





Random House (1994).


Renne Sundheimer, child prodigy cellist, looses his talent suddenly at age eighteen. After years of teaching at a Southern California university, he finds another prodigy and becomes a juror in a murder trial.

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LibraryThing member EBT1002
The Soloist is the story of Renne Sundheimer, a gifted Cellist who, after a childhood of performance and incredible expectations for a career on the stage, is now teaching at a university. Two occurrences change his life: a young boy, an apparent prodigy, is sent to him for Cello lessons, and he is summoned to serve on the jury for the murder trial of an apparently insane young man. The narrative moves back and forth in time, with the feel of stories within stories, which is consistent with Salzman's affinity for Japanese culture.

This is an interesting and enjoyable novel, but great literature it's not. The prose is pedestrian; Salzman isn't interested in language. He's interested in the boundaries between sanity and insanity, between spiritual experience and psychosis (shades of his far more finely crafted novel, Lying Awake), and in the possibility that transcendence through music has a place in this philosophical landscape. He suggests that there is a kind of musical "fugue state" experienced by exquisitely gifted musicians, that teeters between spiritual awakening and psychotic process. The intersection between music, spirituality, and psychosis is engaging. But his description of human experience is too literal. I wanted him to show me what characters were feeling (most notably, the first-person narrator) rather than telling me in 8th-grade reading level language. Also, Salzman too frequently succumbs to his desire to share information with his audience (I fully agree that it's better to adopt a cat from the pound than from a pet store, but the narrator's description of the reasons for this, and how he learned about those reasons, creates a flat literary voice).

Renne's story is engaging. It's really a vehicle for Salzman to meditate "out loud" about the questions that interest him and he succeeds in making those questions surprisingly interesting to me. I did find myself wishing he would focus more. Salzman tried to cover too much without the literary gift to accomplish it in this novel. The result is a teach-y style with occasional moments of subtlety that kept me reading. For example, as the judge questions Renne and his fellow jurors over their inability to reach a verdict, Renne states "The disagreement between me and the other eleven jurors is fundamental, not a disagreement over details." Well, yes.

In sum, I recommend this novel with some reservations. It has much to offer in the way of thought-provoking musings and an unusual and worthwhile story, but it does too much of the work for the reader.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
Renne Sundheimer is a child of German refugees who live in the United States. As a small child, he displays an exceedingly rich talent for music and is offered the opportunity to study cello. Renne's life, rigidly controlled by his mother, is one of social isolation as he is forced to devote most of his free time to practicing his music. As an adult, he becomes a performer until his talent with pitch deteriorates so that he can no longer perform and has to turn to teaching music as a profession. One day Renne is issued a summons to court where he is selected as a juror for a murder trial, a startling situation completely out of this musician's realm and familiarity.

I found this novel to be extremely moving and believable. The mood of melancholy throughout the book, especially the part about Renne’s relationship with fellow juror Maria Teresa, touched me deeply. Although music was this man’s companion, it didn’t seem if that were enough. There were times, in reading Renne’s story, that I wished I could have reached through the pages of this novel and offered a hand of friendship.

Some readers have criticized this novel for moving too slowly. I didn’t feel that way. To me, it simmered. By being kept on a low flame, its flavor was made all the richer. The story worked perfectly for me in a way which now has me wanting to seek out further works by its talented author.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
The Soloist is about a man who is struggling with who he was in relation to who he has become. As a child Renne Sundheimer was a prodigy who mastered the cello and thrilled audiences world-wide. As an adult, having mysteriously lost his talent, Renne has become a cello teacher for a university in Southern California. His life revolves around the music he used to make until two completely different events happen. First, Renne is summoned to jury duty where he hears a case involving a murdered Buddhist monk. Second, Renne finds himself the tutor of another cello prodigy, a nine-year old Korean boy. In both situations Renne started out an unwilling participant. He was convinced he didn't want to serve on a jury and planned to profess an undue hardship. He was also convinced he didn't want to give private lessons to an introverted Korean boy. In both cases he fails to extract himself from involvement and ultimately ends up changing his life.… (more)
LibraryThing member jennyo
This was my first Mark Salzman book. I've got one of his non-fiction books sitting on my TBR shelf too, and now I'm looking forward to reading it. I chose this one from Debbie because I thought I'd be drawn in by the musical aspect of the story. And I was. But I did have mixed feelings about the book. I did like it, and I thought it was well written, but I never felt like I made an emotional connection with the protagonist. Of course, that makes sense since his emotional growth was stunted by his devotion to his music. But it made it harder for me to care about what was happening to him.

I really enjoyed being able to read more about Zen philosophy. Turns out I had some false assumptions about Zen, and it was nice to learn more.

I also loved the little Korean boy and the way he experienced music. But I left the book wondering if he, too, would end up with the same problems Renne suffered. Since I'm an optimist, I'll assume Renne was able to help him avoid that trap.

All in all, this was a very interesting read, and I will probably bump my other Salzman book further up the TBR pile now.
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LibraryThing member dancingstarfish
I read Salzman's other book Lost in Place right before I read this one, so I recognize parts of his own childhood in it which was a little weird for me because it was basically as if he cut and pasted it into this story. Other than that (which I think was unique to my experience with reading two of his books back to back) it's a book with an odd combination of different things. A man who was a cello player who peaked when he was a child and is now a bit washed up, starts to teach a young child cello prodigy (much like himself) at the same time he starts to be a juror on a murder trial. His story is engaging, humorous and a bit sad. I think anyone could enjoy it.… (more)
LibraryThing member fig2
A tortured cellist, who lost his gift as a teenager, lives an insular life; mainly waiting for his gift to return. Suddenly, his life begins to changes in a startling way as he takes on a new student, sits on a jury for a murder trial and begins his first steps toward romance. Redemptive and insightful.
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
This is a novel (not to be confused withh the true story that has been made into a movie starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr).
It is an incandescent work about personal growth. Renne is a former musical child prodigy now teaching music at a university - too young to be a retired concert soloist, too old to still be a virgin.… (more)
LibraryThing member kcoleman428
This was a great book. It was fun to see the metamorphosis of this character as the book goes on! Quite a fun read, especailly as someone who loves classical music!
LibraryThing member maryreinert
Someone gave me this book - I didn't particularly like the cover, but started to read just to "check it out." Couldn't put it down! Loved the characterization and the simpleness of the plot. Great story - I'm definitely looking for more by Salzman
LibraryThing member PetreaBurchard
I don't know what Salzman set out to do but whatever it was, I think he failed. The main character is unsympathetic in the way a person might be when he's always been told he's brilliant and special and he turns out not to be. In that way, Salzman succeeds in creating him. Then again, it's hard to care about his feelings and experiences because he's so self-centered. Not an easy book to like and, with a slapped-on ending, an unsatisfying read.

Petrea Burchard
Camelot & Vine
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LibraryThing member auraesque
The main character isn't particularly likable which perhaps was part of the point. It is an okay read.


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