Brother of Sleep

Robert Schneider, Author
Robert Schneider, Author Overlook Press $21.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-87951-595-9
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-87951-659-8
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A highly unusual tale about an unrecognized musical genius, Schneider's debut novel touches the grand questions about God, love, art and history. Set in a modest peasant town in early 19th-century Germany, the novel establishes a parable tone in the first sentence: ``This is the story of the musician Johannes Elias Alder, who took his own life at the age of twenty-two, after he had resolved never to sleep again.'' Sickly and yellow-eyed, Elias draws his first cry only when the midwife sings the Te Deum to him. He subsequently develops the uncanny ability to hear and to imitate all sounds around him perfectly. Schneider's portrayal of the Alpine town in which the eccentric Elias grows up is aptly unsentimental; it's in this backward, superstitious village, where religious hysteria often sweeps the peasant population, that Elias struggles to understand his gift, his tortured love for his cousin Elsbeth and his ongoing rage against--and love for--God. Later, though he never learns to read music, he improvises unbelievably complex, transcendent organ pieces. After the organist from a nearby city's cathedral overhears him, Elias travels to Feldberg for its organ festival, where he transports his ``terrified audience'' with inspired playing that turns into the pure ``voice of death.'' Personal demons, unrequited love and the lack of a clear channel for his genius eventually break Elias, and he turns his rage at the world in on himself. Schneider writes a studied, old-fashioned prose designed to replicate the rhythms of formal oral storytelling; the tactic gives this novel the feel of a tale told by the brothers Grimm. (June)
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