The Time of Our Singing A Novel

Richard Powers




Trade Paperback

640 Pages



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National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee
A New York Times Notable Book
A Chicago Tribune Best Book
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book

On Easter Day, 1939, at Marian Anderson's epochal concert on the Washington Mall, David Strom, a German Jewish émigré scientist, meets Delia Daley, a young Philadelphia Negro studying to be a concert singer. Their mutual love of music draws them together, and—against all odds, advice, and better judgment—they marry. They vow to raise their offspring beyond time, beyond race, beyond belonging, steeped in song. But their three children, the unwitting subjects of this experiment, must survive America's brutal here and now.

Jonah, Joseph, and Ruth grow up during the early Civil Rights era, come of age in the riot-torn 1960s, and live out their adulthoods through the racially retrenched late century. Jonah, the eldest, "whose voice could make heads of state repent," pursues a life devoted to his parents' beloved classical music. Ruth, the youngest, chooses a path of militant activism and repudiates the white culture her brother represents. Joseph, the middle child and the narrator of this far-ranging, multigenerational tale, struggles to remain loyal to both siblings. As a polarized America threatens to tear the family apart, only their deep, shared love of song stands any hope of preserving them.

Set against the sweeping backdrop of contemporary American history, The Time of Our Singing is nevertheless deeply personal and intimate. In telling the story of his quintessentially American family, Joseph Strom spins a heartrending tale of self-invention, allegiance, race, hope, the power of music, and the tangled loops of time that rewrite all identity.

Over the course of seven previous novels, Richard Powers has earned a reputation for being the most prodigiously gifted writer of his generation, and The Time of Our Singing is surely his masterpiece.


Praise for The Time of Our Singing

"One of the best novels ever written about race in America [as well as] one of the best written about the joys of music."—Newsday

"Powers is one of our most lavishly gifted writers [and] The Time of Our Singing rewards on many levels."—Sven Birkerts, The New Yorker

"[Themes] collide through [this] novel with the potency and flash of subatomic particles in an accelerator. Music is one. Perhaps not since Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus has a novelist conveyed so tangibly and exaltedly the mechanism and the aesthetic effect in musical performance, and the relation between them. Another is the restless dimensions of time, both in post-relativity physics and in human consciousness: speeding, slowing, circling back, and standing still . . . [Powers] is unmatched among our first-rank novelists in connecting the new ambiguities of scientific theory to the old relativities of the heart . . . [The novel is] prodigious, illuminating, and exhilarating."—Richard Eder, The New York Times

"The novel is at its most engaging in reader-friendly scenes of family life and strife. It often soars in passages that celebrate the beauty of vocal music, including a climactic scene that reunites characters, themes, tragedy, and song in a feat of Dickensian brio."—Jeffrey Burke, The Wall Street Journal

"A bold and vibrant set of variations on the themes of music, race, and time . . . It is hard to think of another novel since Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus that uses music so effectively and with such authority . . . Powers offers a rich, compelling account of the daily slights and indignities suffered by blacks intent on passing not for white but for unmodified American."—Steven G. Kellman, 0 Chicago Tribune

"It seems obvious that with the publication of his eighth novel, The Time of Our Singing, Mr. Powers has confirmed his place as the premier writer of his generation . . . He is, in the very best sense of the term, a novelist of ideas . . . Richard Powers is one of those very important and very necessary writers who, with wit and style and a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge, gives us the ever-changing pictures of what it means to be human . . . Mr. Powers is a true wordsmith. Trained both in science and the liberal arts, he is a very intelligent writer . . . The Time of Our Singing is a sprawling, ambitious, [and] brave book . . . It might well be the best book on bi-racialism . . . This novel will appeal to readers who want to learn as much as they can about themselves and their species. No reader will come away from it unchanged, a claim that only our best artists can make on us. This is an important novel from a major writer."—Vincent D. Balitas, The Washington Times

"Technically adept and historically rich . . . [Powers'] skillful synthesis of historical and fictional material, and his vast and varied learning, offer a powerful reminder of how the contemporary novel can excavate and re-inhabit a lost past."—Stephen Burn, The Times Literary Supplement

"Remarkable . . . Powers [blends] unlikely tones in order to probe the problems of a society that continues to insist, all grays to the contrary, on seeing everything in terms of black and white . . . A fascinating, stimulating, and moving artistic imagining of a harmony that continues to elude us in life."—Daniel Mendelsohn, The New York Times Book Review

"Powers' language is both rich and immediately familiar . . . In graceful sentences redolent of youth and narrative foreboding, Powers tilts us into rising winds of a hurricane on the American horizon . . . The Time of Our Singing adds handsomely to that growing genre of novels being written nowadays—the learned, challenging kind that does not condescend—by Matthew Pearl, Jonathan Franzen, Manil Suri, [and] Jonathan Safran Foer."—Robert W. Hill, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Brilliantly conceived . . . What has always separated Powers from many of his contemporaries is the breadth of intelligence—his dyadic gift of synthesis and perception . . . He has imbued this work with color . . . not the visual spectrum of light, but the hues and pigments by which whole nations are judged and divided . . . [This] novel is composed with the rapturous flow of the music it emulates . . . The Time of Our Singing is a fierce and passionate novel, its emotional center mirrored by its classical and operatic themes . . . [It] is a passionate guide to the sacred and the profane, its celestial themes tethered by the earthbound cruelties of racism."—Gail Caldwell, The Boston Globe

"I can think of no American novelist of his generation who makes a stronger [case]—that the writing of novels is a heroic enterprise, and perhaps even a matter of life and death."—A. O. Scott, The New York Review of Books

"[This novel is] an astonishment but not a surprise . . . Richard Powers has been astounding us almost every other year since 1985."—John Leonard, Harper's Magazine

"Powers offers breathtaking descriptions of the harmonies of music, the difficult intimacies of love, and the abiding matrix of family."—Joseph Dewey, Review of Contemporary Fiction

"Richard Powers is a genius, and he fears nothing. He has dared to write a great American novel about family love, music, and race. No: he has sung this thrilling book."—Frederick Busch

"The Time of Our Singing surveys a vast and excruciating realm of human loneliness, social injustice, and historical wreckage while leaving the most cynical reader believing in the possibility of good. It's a profound accomplishment that may have 'something deeper and more useful in it than mere perfection.' Could this be what literature is for?"—Melvin Jules Bukiet

"A glorious book . . . Propelled by rich understanding, stupendous range and pitch-perfect writing, [it] resonates long and powerfully."—Erin McGraw

"A novel that poses stirring questions about race and identity . . . The best black novel to appear in America since Beloved has just been written by a white man."—Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor

"Powers has dramatized the difficulties of the marriage of bird and fish and their offspring with a monumental . . . painful candor."—Rosellen Brown, The New Leader

"Richard Powers is a wonder . . . [The Time of Our Singing] is beautifully, meticulously crafted."—The New York Observer

"One of the most accomplished, most powerful novels of American life in the twentieth century to come along in recent years . . . The Time of Our Singing is a high point that recalls some of the masterful sagas of American families produced by our best contemporary novelists in recent years."—The Post-Dispatch (St. Louis)

"Balances a relentless narrative with the intellectual rigors that we have come to expect and hope for in Powers's work, and he has given us an arresting novel of ideas a page-turner that readers will now likely flock toward."—The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

"Massive and dazzling. . . . Each chapter of this marvelous saga is a set piece of remarkable clarity, rhythm, and drama. One imagines all other novels lining up behind it for the big awards."—The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)

"Like Philip Roth's The Human Stain, The Time of Our Singing is a book by a white writer that features African-American characters as its protagonists. The gamble has paid off: This is Powers' most emotionally engaging, stylistically accessible and culturally aware novel, a family album stuffed with memories 4and clippings that are not always chronologically arranged . . . The Time of Our Singing is not about black or white voices. With its color spectrum of characters, the novel speaks for a new culture of people who continuously break down these racial binaries. Coupled with Powers' accessible prose, their story is likely to speak to us all. "—Tom LeClair, Book magazine

"Powers's work is undoubtedly complex, but his stories are compelling, lyrical, and timeless."—Library Journal

"At times [Powers] seems like the only writer capable of taking the novel into fresh territory without also being a crashing bore. No one can doubt that Powers is not only wicked smart but also able to capture in fiction the giddy thrills of being smart . . . Powers, when you get right down to it, is more interested in processes and patterns than in people, but when he hits on the right combination of ideas, as he does in his newest book, The Time of Our Singing, he finds a place for people in his celestial clockwork."—Laura Miller,

"The power of music in its relation to a racially divided family and culture is dramatized with unprecedented brilliance in this panoramic novel . . . The most accessible, and powerful fiction yet from a major American writer, who, against all odds, just keeps getting better."—Kirkus Reviews

"When Jewish physicist David Strom meets African American Delia Daley at Marian Anderson's historic Washington Mall performance in 1939, they fall in the most unlikely love. Together, they embark on a grand experiment, raising three children to love music and transcend race. The children all sing beautifully, but the oldest boy, Jonah, is a genuine prodigy (his brother, Joseph, who narrates the novel, becomes Jonah's accompanist in life and music). When their mother dies in a mysterious fire, the three children must navigate a racist world with only their white father to guide them, a man obsessed with trying to decode the secret shape of time. While Ruth, the youngest Strom, becomes a militant black activist, the two boys try to resurrect the music of dead white men with the history of the civil rights movement playing out in their background—always present, and yet never nearby. Powers' (Ploughing the Dark, Galatea 2.2) celebrated intellect is fully evident in this sweeping story as he forges unlikely connections between race and physics, and music and time. But behind Powers' intimidating brain is a heart too often overlooked, and even as the narrative artfully switches tenses and folds back upon itself (reflecting the knotted shape of time), this remarkable novel sings from its tortured soul as much as from its polyphonic mind."—John Green, Booklist


Read an Excerpt

Richard Powers has been the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award and a MacArthur Fellowship. He is the author of eight novels, including Plowing the Dark, Gain, and Galatea 2.2. He lives in Illinois.
Read the full excerpt


  • Richard Powers

  • Richard Powers is the author of ten novels, including Generosity, Gain, The Time of Our Singing, Galatea 2.2, and Plowing the Dark. The Echo Maker won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Powers has received a MacArthur Fellowship and a Lannan Literary Award. He lives in Illinois.
  • Richard Powers Jane Kuntz
    Richard Powers




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