The Sound of Blue: A Novel
Payne's second novel (after 2002's well-received The Virgin's Knot) ruminates on refuge and how solace may be found in music and memory. In 1992, after getting rejected from Harvard Law School, Sara Foster flees to teach English in Hungary. She envisions a glamorous Budapest "where poets and politicians gobbled cakes and cobbled history, mixing ink with icing, calling it sweet," but instead finds herself giving lessons in optimism to Croatian refugees in Csokhid who have fled the "twentieth-century psoriasis" of war. Though used to solitude, Sara feels painfully disconnected; she finds comfort in the music of Milan, a Serbian composer who welcomes her attention ("The sound of blue had permitted perfect strangers to turn toward each other in one measured moment of refuge"). But when Milan returns to his native Dubrovnik to face his demons, Sara follows, to the war-torn city where a young half-Croatian, half-Serbian refugee named Luka searches for his drum, which will "wake the dead." Payne employs flourishes of figurative language and poetic musings on the nature of refuge and memory. But these exquisite (and sometimes overwritten) miniatures come at the expense of the bigger picture; the plot's clarity and momentum suffer, as do character development and the novel's real and dark context. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition. Payne's haunting second novel, following The Virgin Knot (2002), takes place during the Balkan War in a Hungarian refugee camp housing 48,000 Croats. After failing to get into Harvard law school, Sara Foster intended to teach English abroad. Instead she ends up at the refugee camp, where she quickly becomes inextricably entangled in the anguished lives of her students. She knows her job is futile: the refugees are "only teetering on the edge of consciousness," never speaking of the past, for that would make it real. But Sara bonds with Elana, a widowed Croat nurse who has become separated from her nine-year-old son, who readers see scavenging for food and refusing to go to the orphanage. Running from her own demons, Sara is especially vulnerable to the heart-wrenching chaos surrounding her, echoing the words spoken on her arrival, "The minute you open your heart to a refugee, you suffer everything they have suffered." Against a background of stark wartime imagery, Payne laces her tale with poetic musings on the healing and redemptive power of love. Deborah DonovanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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