The celebrated opera singer Lo Svizzero was born in a belfry high in the Swiss Alps where his mother served as the keeper of the loudest and most beautiful bells in the land. Shaped by the bells’ glorious music, as a boy he possessed an extraordinary gift for sound. But when his preternatural hearing was discovered—along with its power to expose the sins of the church—young Moses Froben was cast out of his village with only his ears to guide him in a world fraught with danger.
Rescued from certain death by two traveling monks, he finds refuge at the vast and powerful Abbey of St. Gall. There, his ears lead him through the ancient stone hallways and past the monks’ cells into the choir, where he aches to join the singers in their strange and enchanting song. Suddenly Moses knows his true gift, his purpose. Like his mother’s bells, he rings with sound and soon, he becomes the protégé of the Abbey’s brilliant yet repulsive choirmaster, Ulrich.
But it is this gift that will cause Moses’ greatest misfortune: determined to preserve his brilliant pupil’s voice, Ulrich has Moses castrated. Now a young man, he will forever sing with the exquisite voice of an angel—amusico—yet castration is an abomination in the Swiss Confederation, and so he must hide his shameful condition from his friends and even from the girl he has come to love. When his saviors are exiled and his beloved leaves St. Gall for an arranged marriage in Vienna, he decides he can deny the truth no longer and he follows her—to sumptuous Vienna, to the former monks who saved his life, to an apprenticeship at one of Europe’s greatest theaters, and to the premiere of one of history’s most beloved operas.
In this confessional letter to his son, Moses recounts how his gift for sound led him on an astonishing journey to Europe’s celebrated opera houses and reveals the secret that has long shadowed his fame: How did Moses Froben, world renowned musico, come to raise a son who by all rights he never could have sired?
Like the voice of Lo Svizzero, The Bells is a sublime debut novel that rings with passion, courage, and beauty.
Published Date: 2010
“Crying has a thousand forms: the baby’s needful whine, the sickly moan, the lonesome sob. Some cry into the mute of a pillow or press a fist against their teeth so they snort their sadness. Some sadnesses are floods of tears an snot spat out. Some are dry, raspy creatures that desiccate a heart. Sadness can sound like giving birth to an unwanted child. These species are impartial; the stoic, wrinkled man may drool and bear his forehead, while his frail granddaughter’s sorrow may merely make her shudder.” (pg. 161-162)
When I started reading this novel, I couldn’t understand the need for all the minor detail. I later read that the majority of the detail is based on a non-fictional period with fictional characters.
“…before I recognized another level: the aria of the night. To hear this you must be lucky, or else very bold. For people hide these sounds as they hide the most private patches of their flesh. To hear aria on a hot night, pull yourself up to an open window. Or, when it is colder, find an unlocked door – or learn to pick the lock by he sounds it makes when prodded with pins. Do not stop in the front hallway, but climb the stairs, crawl along the floor until you can place your ear against a door. Or, better yet, if you find occupants still bust washing, hide beneath their bed or in their wardrobe. If not that, then climb onto a roof and pry up the tiles until you find a hole through which you mine the sounds below. Only ghosts, angels, and thieve have a right to aria.” (pg. 161)
He heard so much in utero, but never a voice. Born a bastard child of a dumb mother who took refuge in the belfry of the single church in Uri which housed awe-spiring bells; three bells, that were meant to be heard from all about, she rung these bells regularly.When born he was kept shut-in with his mother, summers in the belfry, winters in a small shack close to the church. This child had never spoken a word, but what he never said was compensated with his ears.
The village assumed that this boy was like his mother; deaf. But a single event changed his entire world when he hears from far away a woman screaming for help. The boy seeks help from the village and brings this group to the aide of this victim of a landslide. That’s when he spoke, clear as day, and the priest, shocked by this, later winds up killing the child’s mother and tossing the boy, leaving him for dead in a chilling roaring river.
The boy is saved by a couple of monks on their back to the abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland, and this is where the boy is given a name, a great friend, and a whole new life to begin. We would than follow the life of the young choirboy and how his voice not only saves his life but gets him into a predicament that, once again, alters his life; the preservation of his voice.
The layout of the book is in ‘acts’ and ‘scenes’. The first act I felt was lengthy and drawn out, but the details were what made the reading worthwhile. The second, I warn thee, eventually becomes sexually driven with details that may make you blush, but reading it through the perspective of a man who focuses on sounds and not appearance, makes it all worth it. Each ‘act’ seems to be a new chapter in Moses’ life. A new set of tragedies that made the story all the titillating.
The recounting tale eventually made it very difficult to put it down. I was saddened, I smiled and laughed and my emotions to be on the same wave as the story itself. I felt hope for the characters and felt weepy for the ones that didn’t survive throughout the book. I felt a connection, as I usually have with good story tellers, to the characters and could almost see what was happening.
I wrote this with a heavy heart. Wanting to see how the life of Moses and the remaining characters lived on. I felt almost filled with a hateful distaste but thankful to the characters whose lives were left in the mud.
I would definitely recommend this novel. If you are a person who doesn’t mind reading historical fiction with some time of heavy religion context than you might enjoy reading this.