An Equal Music - A review


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An Equal Music by Vikram Seth (Highly recommended reading)

The world of music has eluded me for a very long time. I hardly have any idea of sur, taal or rhythm for that matter. I do enjoy music but am ignorant when it comes to forms of music. Therefore, when I took up reading this book, I was sort of apprehensive. Apprehensive because I might not understand the essence, i.e. the passion for music, that drives the book forward or because it would get too complicated for me to go along further and so I would quit.

However, nothing of that sort happened. I was pulled into the narrative as soon as I hit page 2 and soon, I could read notes, mentally of course (i.e. again my knowledge is stunted) in my head. I had visions of Vienna - how Michael and Julia made music together, how they roamed the streets, hand-in-hand, enjoyed their food at the Mnozil and how they slept in each other’s arms every night.

The words are beautifully etched, in a manner in which, it makes you feel every emotion, the frenzy, the despair, the tears, the joy and of course, the music. A brilliant yet simple narrative takes you through the world of Chopin, Bach, Schubert, Handel etc. One is compelled to feel the desperation in Michael’s search for his lost love of nine years; Julia. He wants to reconnect, to feel the old love again. He knows his music is connected to her.

Yet, his chance spotting of her in a bustling double-decker in London, while is he is so sure that it was her, he has missed her again. While Michael has remained true to both his loves; Music and Julia, Julia has moved on. Nine years later, she is married with a seven year old son who happens to hate music classes. However, there is more to her. She is going deaf slowly yet definitely just like Beethoven did. The challenge in playing with others when she can hardly make out what is being played is deeply felt. Miserable, distressed, happy, difficult, guilty etc. all of these are felt when one is reading about Julia.

When fate brings these two lovers together (not ex, mind you as they still love each other), they can hardly contain their love and passion for one and another. Back in Vienna with Michael’s quartet, Maggiore, they feel the same. Fate leads them to Venice where they live each day walking, talking, waking and sleeping together. Their love is like never before. However, reality comes knocking their doors soon. Julia leaves Michael. She must come to a balance in her life what with her increasing deafness and her family. Therefore, she has to let go of Michael.

Michael is a mixed bag. At times you find him endearing, sometimes annoying, you may think of him as a wimp, selfish, strong or weak or everything at the same time. While Julia is someone many of us can relate to easily, her falling into Michael’s arms so easily earned her much flak. One can say that as the book progresses, following the music gets tougher. However, it is the single most important factor that binds all the characters in the book seamlessly.

Tragedy follows. Michael leaves the Maggiore. Word goes round that Julia will only play solo. All is lost to Michael.  Mrs. Fromby, Michael’s oldest friend and benefactor (she left him her Tontoni), dies. Threats from old Fromby’s nephew to acquire the family heirloom (Tontoni) follow. He cannot meet Julia. He is listless, restless and his world is closing in on him. However, Julia’s recital where she is playing the Art of Fugue (piano) sums it all up for him. Michael does not wait for the entire recital as he has learnt, heard and felt what he had to. Such beautiful music, an equal music! A beautiful ending full of hope…

"For music is equal for all – to the deaf and to the hearing. All one needs to do is, to play from the heart…" - NB.

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