Author(s): Janette Turner Hospital
In this powerful and achingly beautiful novel, Janette Turner Hospital tackles head-on questions of national security, art, terrorism and love.
From the moment Leela's ear catches the first few bars of music in between the roar of subway trains, she's entranced by its haunting beauty. Letting the music reel her in, in perfect fifths, it's at the end of the inbound platform that she finds Mishka Bartok, singing Che faro senza Euridice and accompanying himself on the violin. He's surrounded by a cluster of commuters, but hardly seems to notice they are there until he stops playing. Despite Mishka's reluctance to talk, Leela discovers that he's a graduate student at Harvard, studying composition. She's a mathematician at MIT, researching the math of music. Their connection is immediate, and that night they embark on a steamy love affair.
Living together in Boston, Leela and Mishka pursue their mutual passions -- both academic and carnal -- in a fog, as if the outside world does not exist. They have both distanced themselves from their families -- Mishka from his mother and grandparents in Australia, Leela from her father and sister back in Promised Land, South Carolina. Both recoil from the reality of the city streets, where terrorists attack American civilians and a subway bombing under Harvard Square comes dangerously close to tearing their world apart. But that is ultimately the effect of the bombing, when Leela is grabbed off the street, thrust into a dark car, and taken to an interrogation room. There, she is questioned about the recent attacks by a masked man who tells her he's a member of a private security force. He also asks directly about Mishka -- who often visits an Arab cafe and a mosque that are under surveillance, and socializes with known instigators... all signs that he's a terrorist, or at least aiding those responsible for the subway bombing.
When Leela's captor removes his mask at last, Cobb stands before her: the person she was perhaps closest to as a teenager back in Promised Land. Since leaving the army, after a long stint in the Middle East, he's been involved in paramilitary work. Cobb knows from experience that photographs can be disastrously misinterpreted, but in his eyes, Mishka is guilty. Against her instincts, Leela thinks back to Mishka's many unexplained disappearances, often around the time of such attacks. It's then that she realizes the mystery and intensity at the heart of their relationship could be hiding much more than she'd thought.
Mishka disappears again the next day, and doubt erodes Leela's love as she embarks on her own investigation to find him and unravel the mystery of his life. Little does she know that her search will lead her across the globe and into an underworld of kidnapping, torture and despair.
With this compelling re-imagining of the Orpheus story, Janette Turner Hospital again shows her genius, interweaving a literary thriller with a story of passion and the triumph of decency in confusing and dangerous times. It is at once a love story on a grand scale that spans America, Australia and the Middle East, and an exploration of how ghastly side effects of terrorism can wreak havoc on individual lives.
Shortlisted for Nielsen BookData/ABA Book of the Year Award - Booksellers' Choice 2008.