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July 29, 2011

Book Notes - Evelyn Toynton ("The Oriental Wife")

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

Evelyn Toynton's The Oriental Wife is an intelligent and heartbreaking novel of immigration and loss.

Eva Hoffman wrote of the book:

"In this poignant, vivid, and richly humane novel, Evelyn Toynton measures the weight of personal tragedy against the great catastrophes of 20th century history. Through its acute portrayal of emigre lives, The Oriental Wife deepens our insight into the condition of exile, the ambiguities of Americanization, and the arbitrariness of each love and each human fate."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes (with the exception of Nikos Portokaloglou's "Strophe"). If you don't have Spotify yet, request an invitation.


In her own words, here is Evelyn Toynton's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Oriental Wife:


Having lived with first a father and then a husband who were passionate lovers of classical music, I have always thought of myself as shamefully unmusical. I find it hard to listen with full attention to any music that isn't accompanied by a human voice. (I once wept through most of the last act of Tristan und Isolde, my only such experience.)

But in fact there is lots of music I love. When I think back on what I listened to during the years I was writing my novel, I see, somewhat to my surprise, that much of it had a bearing on what I was writing about, though I didn't realize that at the time.

So here is my playlist:


Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama — "Numberless are the World's Wonders"

This song is from the majestic gospel version of Oedipus at Colonus, though its "lyrics" are actually a famous choral passage from Antigone. It tells of man's (humans') triumphant rule over all the creatures and elements of the earth, and powerlessness in the face of death. My novel is very much about people discovering that they are, after all, helpless, that there are forces stronger than themselves to which they can only surrender.


The Velvet Underground — "I'll Be Your Mirror"

I used to play this in the car and, though it sounds absurd, feel as though I were speaking the words to one of my characters, or the person she was based on. I was making a kind of pledge to her.


Dave Van Ronk — "The Song of Wandering Aengus"

Usually I dislike hearing poems I love set to music—this is the one great exception. Van Ronk's whiskeyish voice manages to sound haunted and other-worldly in just the way that Yeats's words are. Listening to it always "takes me away," as Jean Rhys used to say of books she loved, so it can be a substitute for reading poetry before I get to work.


Maria Callas — "O mio babbino caro"

Despite the title, which sounds vaguely as though it's about a baby, this is actually a young girl singing to her father, pleading with him. A fraught father-daughter relationship is at the heart of my novel, or at least its second half, but even if it weren't, I could listen to Callas sing this forever.


"America the Beautiful"

One of my main characters has been in love with America, or the idea of America, since his childhood in Germany. And when he gets here, he is granted all the opportunities and freedoms he dreamed of...but there is a price to pay. I had not listened to this song, voluntarily at least, since I was a child myself, but several times, when I was writing my novel, I would suddenly have the urge to play it on YouTube, without consciously realizing why. And sometimes I'd find myself close to tears. I think it conjured up all the feelings he had about the country.


Bob Dylan — "It Ain't Me, Babe"

The daughter in the book falls desperately in love with a man who tries to warn her that she mustn't count on him, mustn't get too involved (the very thing that, alas, can make women fall in love even harder). Oddly, when I listened to this, I felt a certain sympathy with the male sentiments it expressed.


Nikos Portokaloglou — "Strophe"

I can't relate this song directly to the content of my novel, especially since my Greek isn't good enough for me to understand all the lyrics, but its somehow quintessentially Greek tone of fierce exultation, with a mournful undertow, was often just what I wanted to hear when I had finished a day's writing session, particularly if it had gone well.


Evelyn Toynton and The Oriental Wife links:

All Things Considered review
ForeWord Reviews review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review
Rundpinne review
Susan Blumberg-Kason review

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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