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January 19, 2017

Book Notes - Adelia Saunders "Indelible"


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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Adelia Saunders' haunting Indelible is a stunning and unique debut novel.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Fans of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Téa Obreht's The Tiger's Wife will love Saunders' debut, which takes up the mantle of myth, history, and storytelling with beautiful, sure-footed prose."

In her own words, here is Adelia Saunders's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Indelible:

There is a lot of travelling in this book – by bus, by train, by foot – and a trip always needs a soundtrack. So here are some songs I imagine playing in the background as the characters make their various journeys.

"Ne me quitte pas" by Jacques Brel

Part this story concerns events that took place in Paris in 1954, around the time Jacques Brel was singing in cafes. He wrote "Ne me quitte pas" in 1959 sitting a bar in Montmartre, and if my book had music, this song would play during Richard's first morning in Paris. All his life Richard has thought that in Paris he might find traces of his mother, who left him when he was a child. Now he's finally there, wandering through the city with his suitcase. The lyrics go

Ne me quitte pas
Il faut oublier
Tout peut s'oublier
Qui s'enfuit déjà
Oublier le temps
Des malentendus et le temps perdu

Richard imagines his mother walking down the same little streets, and pretty soon he's lost – until he realizes he must be walking in circles, because he's seeing things in Paris that he's seen before.

"I'm in London Still" by the Waifs

This song by an Australian band is about being in London – still – and missing home. It would be playing as Neil, a college student studying abroad, tries not to throw up on a bumpy bus stuck in traffic on his way out of London. Neil has a package of very late Christmas presents to deliver to the daughter of a Lithuanian woman his father knows, and he has a hangover, and he wishes he were anywhere but there.

"Īssavienojums" by Prāta Vētra (BrainStorm)

This song is by a Latvian band called Prāta Vētra, which means "brainstorm." As BrainStorm this band sings in English – they won a Eurovision award in 2000, and I imagine them being part of the soundtrack of high school for a lot of Baltic teenagers. Magdalena and Lina would have rolled their eyes when their songs came on, but secretly sort of loved them. Or that could just be me. This song, "Īssavienojums" translates to "short circuit" and as best as I can tell the song's chorus goes

If only five dreams in a hundred come true
Then the first is for you, the second for us
The third, fourth, fifth are just reruns…

In my mind, this is the song that moves with Magdalena and Lina to London.

"Lithuanian Lullaby" sung by Veronika Povilionienė

This lullaby comes from a 1989 album called "Musics of the Soviet Union," which is not a typo. It is sung by Veronika Povilionienė, one of the leaders of the Lithuanian "singing revolution," when folksongs became a way to express dissent and nationalism in the period leading up to independence from the Soviet Union. This lullaby would play as Magdalena walks along old pilgrim paths through Spain, thinking of the Lithuanian words she always saw as a child written on her mother's skin, and wondering if her father might have seen them too.

"The Luckiest" by Ben Folds Five

This is another song for a bus trip. It begins, "I don't get many things right the first time…" I imagine this playing with autobahns outside the window as Neil takes the bus from France to Lithuania. Neil has realized he's made a big mistake by letting Magdalena go home to Vilnius, and he thinks he's doing something brave and foolhardy by following her.

"Congaudeant Catholici"

This 12th century chant comes from the Codex Calixtinus, the "Book of Saint James." The book includes the original pilgrim's guide to Santiago de Compostela, the medieval pilgrimage Neil is researching during his summer in Paris. The Codex also has an appendix of musical scores, written in Latin, for monks to sing in praise of Saint James and his miracles. This chant, the "Congaudeant Catholici" is the most famous of them; scholars think it may be the first piece of medieval music for three voices, instead of just one or two. The piece of parchment it is written on has two "parts" in black ink, and a third part in red ink. Some scholars point out that this third (red) part adds a discordant note to the other two voices. I like the idea of this two-voiced devotional, with a third voice imposed on it, accompanying the three intertwining stories in this book. I imagine this ancient song playing at the end of the story, as Richard walks to the archives of the Assistance Publique-Hopitaux de Paris, where he will finally learn the truth about his mother.

Adelia Saunders and Indelible links:

the author's website

Kirkus Reviews review

Public Libraries Online interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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