The Noise of Time

The Noise of Time

Book - 2016
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After Stalin takes notice of his work and denounces his latest opera, Dmitri Shostakovich, fearing either exile or death, reflects on his predicament as he makes creative compromises to appease those in power.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
Edition: First United States edition.
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9781101947241
Branch Call Number: FIC BARNES, JULIAN
Characteristics: xi, 201 pages ; 20 cm


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Writing style (in third person about himself) makes it difficult to connect. But the terror of being an artiste in Stalin's Russia is well depicted. And it is fun to go to Spotify and listen to his music while reading the book.

Jan 15, 2018

Simply brilliant in its observations on the atmosphere,
music, politics, and tremendous stresses of the time.
Another masterpiece by Barnes.

HMWLibrary2017 Jul 14, 2017

Quiet but profound. A portrait of a great artist tormented by his appeasement of Stalin. Although very much an historical novel, "Noise of Time" has universalized themes including the nature of bravery and cowardice.

Dec 28, 2016

I must confess that it took me some time to work out that the subject of this small novella is Dimitri Shostavkovich.

This book is written in this quiet manner, in the third person, in a somewhat stilted language that only barely masks rage and frustration. The sentences are brief, as are the paragraphs, and the three sections of the book are broken up into asterisked sections. For a book about a composer, there was little music: instead there were words, muttered and issued through clenched teeth.

After I belatedly realized that "he" was an actual figure, Shostakovich, I wondered if, in this information-rich world I should go off and google him before I proceeded. I didn't, but I do wonder if I might have got more from the book if I had done so.

Instead, because of my ignorance of the real-life historical figure and his biography, I almost had to read the book as an allegory. As such, then, its brevity was a real strength. I don't really now if I would have wanted it to go on for much longer.

For my full review, go to

ArapahoeKatya Nov 27, 2016

This novel about the famous and controversial figure of Dm. Shostakovich is probably the best book written by a non-Russian about the Russian composer and the life in the former Soviet Union that I have ever read!

Sep 28, 2016

Julian Barnes goes into the head of Russian composer Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich, writing a fictional memoir of the 20th century musician.

Readers will feel Shostakovich’s anguish at his peril, always one mistake away from Stalin’s machinations and later Khrushchev’s cunning. Barnes has written beautifully about art and an artist under the thumb of a repressive regime, while showing us how this composer managed to survive and thrive. Who knows what of his music might have been even more brilliant in a free society.

Aug 23, 2016

Well written, but I wonder why the author chose this subject; surely not to expound on the meaning of "irony." For those interested in Soviet Russia, this book will appeal to the "tea and sandwich" crowd, but for those who prefer "vodka and pierogis," I suggest Svetlana Aleksievich.

Aug 12, 2016

What I derived from this book; the despotic rule of Russian leaders that leads even good people to denounce anyone who is not favored by government. Be a hero and die or live as a coward and 'survive' to live a kind of death.

Aug 07, 2016

Neurotic, coward, womaniser, drank vodka like water... is the conclusion that you could make about composer Shostakovich after reading this book. He hated Soviet rules, but enjoyed good life under their governance.
Hated his music that was accepted by masses, was trying to promote some of his music, that he thought was a real music, but to my opinion, his symphonies and operas are hard to listen, they are very loud, unlike to his popular music. Maybe everything about Shostakovich in this book is true. Who knows? Even the author is not sure about that.
Barnes very often uses the same sentences over and over, from some pages to other ones.
Interestingly, I found an article about Shostakovich, in one of Russian newspaper from 2004, written by Russian journalist. Y o surprise – there are so many passages, word by word in this book than in that article that I unwittingly though – What is it? This book is published more than ten years later than that article. Both of them are using the same source, or this is some kind of a plagiarism?

Jul 02, 2016

More a rumination than a novel, the latest from Barnes is full of razor-sharp writing and lots of passages to highlight. The author chooses three crossroads in the Russian composer Shostakovich's life - when Stalin takes umbrage with his opera, Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk and the composer is interrogated by a high Soviet official; when Shostakovich is compelled to attend the New York Peace Conference in 1948; when he is pressured to join the Communist Party in 1960. Barnes uses these three times to bring Shostakovich's character and moral dilemmas to life. Why did Shostokovich stay in the repressive Soviet Union where he had to make many concessions so that he could continue to write his music? We really cannot know what thoughts ran through his mind, but Barnes has taken the facts of the composer's life and extrapolated brilliantly to give the reader not only an idea of Shostakovich's personality, but the fear and terror that many felt under Stalin's regime. An intriguing question emerges from the book - does it take more courage to be a coward than to be a hero? Highly recommended!

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Jun 25, 2018

In the world’s younger days, when magic and religion held sway, it was plausible that monsters might have consciences. Not anymore. The world had moved on, become more scientific, more practical…and tyrants had moved on as well. Perhaps conscience no longer had an evolutionary function, and so had been bred out. Penetrate beneath the modern tyrant’s skin, go down layer after layer, and you will find that the texture does not change, that granite encloses more granite; and there is no cave of conscience to be found.

Jul 03, 2016

They always came for you in the middle of the night. And so, rather than be dragged from the apartment in his pyjamas, or forced to dress in front of some contemptuously impassive NKVD man, he would go to bed fully clothed, lying on top of the blankets, a small case already packed on the floor beside him. He barely slept, and lay there imagining the worst things a man could imagine. His restlessness in turn prevented Nita from sleeping. Each would lie there, pretending; also, pretending not to hear and smell the other's terror. One of his persistent waking nightmares was that the NKVD would seize Galya and pack her off—if she was lucky—to a special orphanage for children of enemies of the state. Where she would be given a new name and a new character; where she would be turned into a model Soviet citizen, a little sunflower lifting her face towards the great sun that called itself Stalin.


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