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March 4, 2008

Book Notes - Evan Fallenberg ("Light Fell")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

I just finished the most moving book I have read this year, Evan Fallenberg's debut novel Light Fell. At its heart, Light Fell is the story of Joseph, a father who left his five sons twenty years ago to pursue his love for a noted Rabbi as well as the lives of his sons. Beautifully told with seamless flashbacks, Light Fell examines the connections we have to our pasts, our families, and our faith.

In his own words, here is Evan Fallenberg's Book Notes essay for his debut novel, Light Fell:

The idea of setting Light Fell to music is completely natural to me; in fact, I spoke once to a talented composer friend, Lior Navok, about collaborating on a concept I have for a musical story I would like to write about two intertwined couples divorcing, a kind of literary operetta in four voices.

But when I sat down to set music to my novel I realized immediately that the construct of the book does not lend itself to a music playlist of song-follows-song; the interweaving stories and characters jump around too much and the four sections of the book would not cohere as they do on the page.

Nor can I connect any particular music to the process of creating the book, since I need absolute silence when I write. Music has too much of an effect on my mood and can seep into the words and sentences, the syntax and grammar, if it is in close proximity, so I keep my writing and my music separate.

So what seemed most natural was to choose musical themes for each character in Light Fell, as in Peter and the Wolf. Prokofiev orchestrated seven different themes, but I would need eight to do minimal justice to the characters and thirteen to be fair to all. My choice of themes is as follows:

Major characters

For Joseph, the protagonist: Israeli-born Joseph Licht turns his life and the lives of his family upside-down when, in 1976, he falls in love with the genius rabbi of his generation, Yoel Rosenzweig. Since it is their friendship that comes to define his life, I have chosen HaRe'ut (Friendship), an Israeli classic (and the late Yitzchak Rabin's favorite song) as Joseph's theme.

For Rebecca, Joseph's ex wife (and second cousin): Swiss-born and unadorned, Rebecca merits music that is equally straightforward – a classic Swiss folk song like Beyond the Mountains is just right for her.

For Yoel (Rabbi Yoel Rosenzweig), the love of Joseph's life: Consolation (Op. 30 No. 3) by Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn might have been a kindred soul to Yoel but could offer him no consolation.

For the five sons of Joseph and Rebecca: Daniel (Daniel Solomon's Ahava, a modern Israeli ballad); Ethan (the anthem of the Israel Defense Forces); Noam (I'm Too Sexy by Right Said Fred); Gidi (a wordless Hassidic tune); & Gavri (Barukh HaGever, a settler favorite).

Minor characters

For Manfred, Joseph's ninety-year-old German-born father: Bach, definitely Bach. Anyone whose "German consonants slice the Hebrew words into sharp, neat cubes" will feel at home with the last movement of the fifth Brandenburg Concerto.

For Pepe, Joseph's partner: Pepe is Brazilian, and though the reader never actually meets him he is present in one scene by phone, the Carnaval in Rio blaring in the background. O Que Sera, the theme song from Dona Flor and her Two Husbands, suits Pepe.

For Philippe, Joseph's masseur: Edith Piaf's Non, je ne regrette rien is the perfect mix for Philippe. It is sexy and smoldering, has lots of attitude, and is terribly, unmistakably French.

For Shlomi, the doorman: A swarthy Middle Eastern male, Shlomi deserves no less than the popular Israeli song Atah Totakh, written by Yossi Gispan and sung by Sarit Hadad. Atah Totakh translates – very roughly – as You're One Hot Guy.

For Esther, Rebecca's Swiss mother: In earlier drafts of the novel Esther had more of a presence, and in order to get to know her I wrote a lot about her that did not make the final cut. But although she is now only a very minor character, Esther is quite complex. She needs something sublime, sophisticated, and deceptive, like Chopin's Barcarolle.

Light Fell divides into four sections: In "Promise", the short opening section, the reader meets Joseph Licht early Friday morning on the 1st of March 1996, as he readies his home – and himself – for the arrival of his grown children, who will gather at his Tel Aviv penthouse for a Sabbath reunion, their first in twenty years. "Love" takes the reader back to 1976, when forbidden love pries Joseph away from his family and the religious life in which he had been raised, and paternal love is thwarted. The last two sections return to 1996. In "Khol (secular, common, profane; workaday)" the various family members make their way – or not – to Tel Aviv, and "Kodesh (holy, sacred, sanctified; the Sabbath)" is the reunion itself.

As far as orchestration is concerned, "Promise" and "Love" are fairly easy, since the number of characters is limited. In "Khol" the numbers grow, and in "Kodesh" the family is assembled and their voices clamor for attention. The result is a mishmash of styles and sounds that resembles that messiest of concoctions: life itself.

Evan Fallenberg and Light Fell links:

the author's website
the book's page at the publisher
an excerpt from the book
an excerpt from the book

Cleveland Jewish News review
Curled Up with a Good Book review
EDGE review
Enfuze review
Jewish Daily Forward review
Miami Herald review
San Francisco Chronicle review

Blogcritics interview with the author
Israel21c profile of the author
La Bloga interview with the author
Nextbook interview with the author
Page 69 test for the novel
Washington Blade profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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