The Noise of Time By Julian Barnes
Adnan Khalil
Publish Date: 30 Aug 2016

Alhawadeth Media



   Review by Brenda Repland


Based on the actual records of (composer) Shostakovich’s life, Julian Barnes has written a novel that fills in the spaces.  Though this renders it a work of fiction, the suppositions are, for the most part, quite logical.  By giving us the view from the composer’s point of view, we can better grasp the tribulations of his (or any) life under the Soviet police state.


His life will run the gamut from being “the most famous composer of the Soviet Union,” to becoming the declared “enemy of the State.”


Night after night, he waits with his suitcase on the landing outside his apartment and waits for the elevator to stop on his floor carrying a uniformed man.  He is not alone in this pattern across Moscow.  He does this to keep his wife from being frightened “when they come for me.”  He knows, they always come for you in the middle of the night. 


His story is a microcosm of the newly developing Soviet system.  (Many of the practices are identical to those more recently written about in Maoist China.)


When Stalin determines that his opera, “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” is anti-Soviet, the reviews that follow will refer to it as “Muddle, not Music.”  But bad reviews are not the real worry.  One can disappear, be killed or any number of horrors for (often inadvertently) offending the State.  In Stalin’s Russia, there would be only two types of composer:  those who were alive and frightened, and those who were dead.



Shostakovich has been the subject of numerous debates over the years.  Was he a martyr to his convictions or actually just a weakling who would do anything to stay alive?  I leave it to the reader to decide.  Anyone who has ever heard his music knows that it very clearly conveys the tension of terror and fear.  However, I do recommend the book highly for a picture of the effects of a despotic State.  Whatever your belief about this composer, you will be enlightened to realize the dangerous options he lived through.

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