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September 21, 2017

Book Notes - Jorge Armenteros "The Roar of the River"

The Roar of the River

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.

Jorge Armenteros's novel The Roar of the River reads like an evocative dream that you never want to end.

D. Harlan Wilson wrote of the book:

"Beautifully written and crafted, The Roar of the River is a mythic incantation of the relationship between nature and culture. Armenteros evokes the dreamscapes and desires of Marquez, Joyce, and Ballard while asserting his own distinctive voice."


In his own words, here is Jorge Armenteros's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection The Roar of the River:



Set in Saorge, a perched village of the French Alps, between a roaring river and the moonlight, a man dressed in a stripped tunic seeks refuge from his dying past. Instead, he encounters an iconoclastic set of characters that offer him love, instigate fear, explore the meaning of language, and elicit revenge. Following the musical structure of the 17th century fugue, the narrative voices succeed each other until coming together in a polyphonic search for light among the darkness of their origins.

“The Art of the Fugue (Contrapunctus I),” J. S. Bach
Bach brought the fugue to the peak of its development in the hundreds that he composed, and this work represents the apotheosis of the form. This is in keeping with the late works of such diverse artists as Shakespeare, Beethoven and Goya, which exemplify how pathos, humor, gravity, exuberance and tragedy are inextricably enmeshed in the deepest recesses of the human psyche.

“Losing my Religion,” REM
The Striped Tunic, the son of a murderous father, arrives in the village through the river in an attempt to forget his tumultuous past. Like in this song, he’s choosing his confessions. Obsessed over the need for truth, he searches for hidden meanings and hopeful signs. What if all his fantasies came flailing around?

“Polegnala e Pschenitza,” Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares
The piercing voice of The Chirping Man, its asymmetry, its dissonance, is well represented by the choir of the Bulgarian voices. As in a trance, the voices emerge from inside the chest and reveal universal human feelings, raw sometimes, but beautiful.

“Violin Concerto No.1 (Third Movement Passacaglia),” Dimitri Shostakovich
This movement is based on a grimly implacable bassline introduced first with horns sounding a characteristic “fate” motif, followed by a somber woodwind chorale. The One-Armed Man then enters with his paranoid and disjointed view of the world, at first sweetly consoling, then becoming increasingly impassionate and ferocious until the last fateful moment.

“Ai Vida,” Cristina Branco
Fado, the genre, whose name translates as “fate,” is the art of sorrow, pain, and joy. And no other music impersonates better the character of Nadya. Seeking to unsettle her fate, she moves among the shadows of the night in the company of stray cats. A dissatisfied soul, she acts hidden and quiet. Nadya is the solitude of time, so much and so little. And with a relentless thirst for life, she shapes the story into something uniquely sublime with an intense gesture of the soul.

“Spem in Alium,” Thomas Tallis (Performed by The Tallis Scholars)
A gigantic 40-part motet, Spem in Alium—really for five choirs of eight voices—is a tour de force. It creates the effect of a river of sound akin the river of voices that encompass the polyphonic sections of the book. The harmonic framework permits for multiple contrasts: the individual voices of the characters narrate and are silent in turns, sometimes alone, sometimes asking and answering, sometimes all together.

“Ready to Go,” Republica
“You're weird, in tears, too near and too far away.” That is how The Old Sister, a character ready to go, feels about her life as a cheesemonger in the small villages of the Roya valley. She’s strange and insane—two things she can never change. Butt-lipped, she’s ready to go.

“Caminante No Hay Camino,” Joan Manuel Serrat
The lyrics in this song were composed by Antonio Machado, the best Spanish poet of the Generation of ’98. For Machado, poetry is a daydream; life is a permanent attitude of watchful vision with open eyes. Readers can frequently discover in his poetry an ecstatic mood. And ecstasy is precisely the mood of The Fat Poet, a character who sources words out of thin air under a moon impossibly white.

“Ana Na Ming,” Salif Keita
Inside a ruined stone house, The Striped Tunic lies down next to Nadya and tries to console her. She has suffered a brutal affront. This song of painful yearning captures the sentiment: “The river is crying / It’s making noise.” Sometimes it is even better if you don't know what the lyrics are about.

“String Quartet No. 3 (Blood Oath),” Philip Glass (Performed by the Kronos Quartet)
The introspective nature of the string quartet articulates the dramatic moment when Didier tries to wash away traces of blood left by Nadya at the Fontane de Mèdge. He scrubs hard, harder, he does not want her stains. The elusive repetitiveness of the harmonic progressions, where subtle shifts continually occur, alternating between pulsed chords and rich polyphonies, depicts very well Didier’s state of mind.

“The Beatitudes,” Vladimir Martynov (Performed by the Kronos Quartet)
This setting of “The Beatitudes” employs techniques that might be described as "minimalist”—two string soloists alternate a pentatonic melody, while the other strings sustain a seemingly eternal, scarcely changing chord—evoking an atmosphere of timelessness. This is what happens the book’s conclusion, when The Striped Tunic enters the waters, the deepest part of his past, the roar of the river.


Jorge Armenteros and The Roar of the River links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpts from the book

TNBBC's The Next Best Book Blog essay by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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