By Rana DasGupta
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), Hardcover, 9780547397085, 339pp.)
Publication Date: February 2011
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With an imaginative audacity and lyrical brilliance that puts him in the company of David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon, Rana Dasgupta paints a portrait of a century though the story of a hundred-year-old blind Bulgarian man in a first novel that announces the arrival of an exhilarating new voice in fiction.
In the first movement of Solo we meet Ulrich, the son of a railroad engineer, who has two great passions: the violin and chemistry. Denied the first by his father, he leaves for the Berlin of Einstein and Fritz Haber to study the latter. His studies are cut short when his father’s fortune evaporates, and he must return to Sofia to look after his parents. He never leaves Bulgaria again. Except in his daydreams—and it is those dreams we enter in the volatile second half of the book. In a radical leap from past to present, from life lived to life imagined, Dasgupta follows Ulrich’s fantasy children, born of communism but making their way into a post-communist world of celebrity and violence.
Intertwining science and heartbreak, the old world and the new, the real and imagined, Solo is a virtuoso work.
“Utterly unforgettable in its humanity.” —The Guardian
"Intertwining science and heartbreak, the old world and the new, Dasgupta's debut novel Solo highlights a century of social revolution through the powerful story of a 100-year-old blind man. Though Solo tells the story of [Ulrich's] bleak life, it ultimately speaks of tragedy on a broader scale - that of the human condition."
-The Daily Beast
"Ulrich is a textured study in human failure and the wreckage of communism."
-The New York Times
"Dasgupta is a deeply empathetic serious writer... The last section of Solo brims with superb descriptions of folk music and the drunken tale of men and women who are brought together, then driven apart by the fall of Communism."
-The New York Times Book Review
"SOLO is a wonder--an exploration of memory, a window on a country and region mysterious to the West even in the twentieth century, a keen study of human love and failure."
- Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian
-Publishers Weekly, starred "Intricate and imaginative, a remarkable novel of music and science, politics and passion, that bridges history and modern times. [...] Graceful and unpredictable, a daring and exceptional achievement."
-Kirkus Reviews, starred "A novel of exceptional, astonishing strangeness, Solo confirms Rana Dasgupta as the most unexpected and original Indian writer of his generation."
- Salman Rushdie "The sedimentary structure—layering stories of opportunity and oppression—makes Solo a double pleasure: readers can enjoy Dasgupta’s imagination but must also confront problems of celebrity and commerce. Part historical fiction, part heartbreak, part pop culture; think Aleksandar Hemon."
- Library Journal "With an intriguing bifurcated storytelling device, this is a novel of dazzling ideas and emotion in which Dasgupta comes to astonishingly beautiful and original conclusions about love, loss, and aging, and his protagonist realizes 'There is far more to us than what we live.'"
"Utterly unforgettable in its humanity."
- The Guardian (UK)
"This gloriously eccentric adventure through a century of Bulgarian history is so much fun to read you'll hardly realise how much you're learning . . . Dasgupta colourfully weaves Ulrich's passions for art, science and his best friend's sister through the two world wars (did you know that, although forced to join the fascist bloc, Tsar Boris III refused to hand over Bulgaria's Jews to Hitler?), the fall of the Bulgarian royal family and the rise of communism. . . . weird, wonderful and warmly wise stuff."
- The Daily Mail (UK)
"Bearing in mind that Dasgupta is a British-Asian author writing about a 100-year-old, blind Bulgarian born at the dawn of the 20th century, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that one of the most notable features of his often beguiling novel is its quivering air of otherness. Confined to his decrepit Sofia home, the hero, Ulrich, begins a soaring flight of the imagination that explores both his past and his country's. . . For as long as the spell remains unbroken, it is worth every second."
- The Sunday Times (UK)
"What a delight to find a novelist unfazed by the 21st century ... This is an important work."
- Scotland on Sunday