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An Equal Music - A review

(Image for representation purposes only. Copyrights lie with the real artist)

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 fast, 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 straightforward 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 explore 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 faithful 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 probably 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 chords are touched 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 quickly earned her much flak. One can say that as the book progresses, following the music gets tougher. However, it is the most critical 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 concert as he has learnt, heard and felt what he had to. Such beautiful music, the same music! A brilliant 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.


  1. :) u make it sound as enticing as the summary on the end page. not that i have read it, but just.

  2. its pretty obvious. and you should be. the story is such. i can only imagine what the real deal could be like...

  3. @ Raj

    Get to reading the book quick!

  4. i did not read till the end 'coz i felt u will b revealing the end. yeah, i've to read this book.
    btw, hav r uread seth's poetry by any chance? u'll love it.

  5. @ Raj

    Okay :p

    @ Adee

    Lol okay. Read the book soon! And yes, I have Seth's poems. Brilliant stuff.

  6. Nikita,

    Read 2 posts now. Why previous is so sad one? Very nice review of this book, makes me want to read it.

    Take care

  7. @ Jack

    The previous poem is my vent for anger. But I am okay now :). Thanks and do read the book!

  8. I like the fact that you didn't let your musical knowledge put you off of reading the book - sounds so emotional.

  9. nikki did u get the email id: cheers

  10. @ Surabhi

    Do read it...loved the book. Might go back to reading it sometime soon. :)

    @ R. Ramesh

    Yup I did...will mail you soon!

  11. It was a surprise...that when I opened this was talking about An Equal Music..considering that..I thought it is quite an obscure book as compared to other writings of Vikram Seth (A suitable boy, Two Lives). I read this book almost 2 months back and I found it very sweet and tragic at the same time with its soul at its rightful place :)

  12. @ Kunal

    Thank you for following! I think you have summarized it just right: sweet yet tragic with it's soul in the right place!

  13. Nikita,

    No post or no visit for so long. Hope all is well.

    Take care

  14. @Jack

    Hi Jack! Yes, all is well on my side. Just busy running around between work and hunting for a rented place! Will update soon!

  15. hey did my comment get accepted..god knows..nywy..nice to hear fm u yar...when r u 2 visiting this side of the globe? cheers n wishes always


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