(The full title is The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music but I didn’t want to try to put that up there!)
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
This is a wonderful story, very effectively written.
From the Penguin Books website:
When Steve Lopez saw Nathaniel Ayers playing his heart out on a two-string violin on Los Angeles’ skid row, he found it impossible to walk away. More than thirty years earlier, Ayers had been a promising classical bass student at Juilliard—ambitious, charming, and also one of the few African-Americans—until he gradually lost his ability to function, overcome by schizophrenia. When Lopez finds him, Ayers is homeless, paranoid, and deeply troubled, but glimmers of that brilliance are still there.
Over time, Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers form a bond, and Lopez imagines that he might be able to change Ayers’s life. Lopez collects donated violins, a cello, even a stand-up bass and a piano; he takes Ayers to Walt Disney Concert Hall and helps him move indoors. For each triumph, there is a crashing disappointment, yet neither man gives up. In the process of trying to save Ayers, Lopez finds that his own life is changing, and his sense of what one man can accomplish in the lives of others begins to expand in new ways.
Poignant and ultimately hopeful, The Soloist is a beautifully told story of friendship and the redeeming power of music.
I suggested this book for my book club after seeing a recommendation on a Bermudaonion’s Blog. I’d heard the story on NPR, and been interested in the movie, but the book hadn’t been on my radar.
Even with this being non-fiction, I was afraid the book would sugar coat the difficulties that people with serious mental illness face– that it would wrap up too easily and happily.
It doesn’t. Neither is it a bleak, depressing book.
The book gave me insight into what life is like for the homeless, and why it isn’t easy to change. It showed me the power that music can have. It let me see a friendship that changed the lives of two people, but also of many others around them.
Narrator: William Hughes did an excellent job with the narration. Since the book was told in first person, I wondered at one point if the author was narrating– the voice just seemed so comfortable with the words. It wasn’t the author, who likely wouldn’t have been this skilled.
Production: Solid, but no extras from the paper version.
Audio vs. Paper: I hadn’t originally planned to listen to The Soloist– I’d bought a paper copy and put it somewhere safe. When I couldn’t figure out where that safe place was, I downloaded the audio version. I think this one works in print or audio.
Book Club Notes
I read The Soloist for my Book Club M.
Five of us met to discuss the book. All of us enjoyed it, including one that really didn’t expect to– she had the opposite concern I did, she thought that a non-fiction book dealing with mental illness would be too grim. We enjoyed talking about the situations in the book, and what had to come together to make the story work.
We talked about how fortunate it was that drugs were not part of Nathaniel Ayers’ issues. As someone with clear talent and no “bad choices” (or self medication), he was a very sympathetic face to put on the issue of homelessness and mental illness, which played very well for Steve’s newspaper articles and later press and political coverage.
We talked about the sacrifices Steve Lopez made, and the rewards he reaped from his work with Nathaniel. We discussed Steve’s motivation for continuing past the initial article, and how it changed over time.
The best part of our discussion was when people in the group shared their personal connections to some of the issues raised in The Soloist.
The conversation we had was very good, but when it was done, it was done. We had lots of other logistical issues to discuss, and a short meeting time due to our meeting location, so that was OK. I’d rate this as a good but not great book club book.
Other opinions on The Soloist
- Jen’s Book Thoughts
- Ulat Buku in the City
- BermudaOnion (this is the same review linked earlier in this post)