Summary and book reviews of The Speed of Light by Elizabeth Rosner

The Speed of Light

By Elizabeth Rosner

The Speed of Light
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2001,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2003,
    272 pages.

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Book Summary

For most of their lives, Julian Perel and his sister, Paula, lived in a house cast in silence, witnesses to a father struggling with a devastating secret too painful to share. Though their father took his demons to the grave, his past refuses to rest.

As adults, brother and sister struggle to find their voices. A scientist governed by numbers and logic, Julian now lives an ordered life of routine and seclusion. My father gave up his language and his homeland. But he carried his sadness with him, under his skin. It was mine now. In contrast, Paula has entered the world as eagerly as Julian retracts from it. An aspiring opera singer, she is always moving, buoyant with sound. Singing was the only gift I could offer to my father. I filled the house with music. I tried to give him joy. . . .

Yet both their lives begin to change on a Wednesday, miercoles, the day that sounds like miracles. Before embarking on a European opera tour, Paula asks her housekeeper, Sola, to stay at her place--and to look after Julian in the apartment above. Yet Sola, too, has a story. I want to clean myself like the window of a house, make myself clear for things to pass through. Flat and quiet.

As Paula uncovers pieces of her father's early life in Budapest and the horrifying truth of his past, Julian bears witness to Sola's story--revelations that help all three learn how to both surrender and revere the shadows that have followed them for so long.

The Speed of Light is a powerful debut about three unforgettable souls who overcome the tragedies of the past to reconnect with one another and the world around them. In an extraordinary accomplishment, Elizabeth Rosner has created a novel of love and redemption that proves the pain of the untold story is far greater than even the most difficult truth.

Excerpt
The Speed of Light

The changes began on a Wednesday, miércoles, the day that sounds like miracles.

My younger and only sister, Paula, had gone away, leaving the apartment directly below mine to test the reach of her voice. I stayed behind, with my eleven televisions, waiting for her to come back.

I was teaching myself not to feel.

In the room with the televisions, there were no voices: I had silenced them all. Instead I heard: a clock that ticked like a snapping twig; the hum and push of cars passing on the street; a neighbor's dog barking at the arrival of mail; the refrigerator purring; my own breath, in and out. All the rhythms, in and out. And inside my head: a melody from before, when my sister trained her voice to soar, when I listened to the notes float and resonate. I believed sometimes that I could see them.

Paula was auditioning, sending her hopeful music into the arms of Copenhagen, Prague, Vienna---places I had never seen and never expected to...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Speed of Light features three very distinctive characters and their struggles to overcome the difficulties of their past. Which character did you relate to the most? And why?

  2. The novel ends with each character on the brink of a new discovery. What do you imagine happens after the end of the book? What do you think the future holds for Sola, Julian and Paula?

  3. Compare and contrast how the presence of color, scent and sound informs the lives of Julian, Paula and Sola.

  4. Certain metaphors recur throughout the novel and have thematic as well as structural significance. For example, the metaphors of breaking into pieces and unraveling appear for all three characters, and this imagery is also reflected in the ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

The emotional impact of Rosner's material is considerable, but her schematic method of alternating the three voices of her protagonists makes the symmetries between their stories a little too neat. Still, the catharsis is moving, and the final affirmation of life, love and art to erase tragedy is uplifting.

Booklist - Carol Haggas

With a sumptuous voice resonating with wisdom, Rosner's lyrical debut novel is a spellbinding tribute to the revelations that redeem us and the emotions that ennoble us.

Author Blurb Chitra Ranertee Divakaruni, Author of The Mistress of Spices and The Unknown Errors of Our Lives
A resonating novel about silence and sharing, about the mystery and pain of the past and how it must be reclaimed. Beautifully written, in images that sing in our ears long after we've put the book down.

Author Blurb Nicholas Delbanco, Author of What Remains
Rilke memorably defined art as exactness, a hatred of the vague, and by that definition The Speed of Light is poetry sustained. The precision of the language here, the structural arrangements and the deft evocation of character in history all herald a genuine talent--not so much emerging as achieved. Ms. Rosner's debut novel turns sorrow into song.

Author Blurb Richard Ford
The Speed of Light is an elegant, meticulous, and quite subtle novel about lives lived at a remove from, but forever connected to, tragedy--the camps. Ms. Rosner's imaginative aim, of course, is to show us great human importance where we might've thought it didn't reside, and to change us with this knowledge. She certainly succeeds.

Reader Reviews
Jan Z-R

What a poetic and beautiful story. Thank you Elizabeth Rosner!

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