Cover Image: Solo Viola

Solo Viola

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Short and powerful, the prose was beautifully constructed which I think is an impressive accomplishment in translation. I think the pacing was a little slow.
Was this review helpful?
There were times I was left in awe of the writing, reminiscent of Marcel Proust, and other times, I was left going, “Huh?” I am all for weird in writing, but there were times I was left a bit baffled. Maybe it was a problem of reading it in translation. I was also left a bit bored at times with this book.
Was this review helpful?
The book was both weird and boring. It was definitely something new, but I just couldn't get into the story.
Was this review helpful?
Originally published as Alto Solo in French in 1991, this work by a French author who goes by the pseudonym of Antoine Volodine is building up a body of forty-nine works of post-exoticism.  Solo Viola, to my understanding, was among the first of these efforts and some others are under his other heteronyms. Volodine's other heteronyms include Lutz Bassmann, Manuela Draeger and Elli Kronauer. A considerable number of his books have been translated into English, including Bardo or Not Bardo and Eleven Sooty Dreams, which I intend to seek out. Solo Viola is translated by Lia Swope Mitchell.

The foreword by Lionel Ruffel describes post-exoticism as "an imaginary literature, coming from elsewhere and going elsewhere, a literature that proudly claims its status as foreign and strange, that proudly claims its singularity, and that refuses any attribution to a specific and clearly identifiable national literature."

For me, this slim novel read like a work by Kurt Vonnegut, Dubravka Ugrešić,  László Krasznahorkai and those satirical Russian masters like Mikhail Bulgakov who masterfully disguised criticism of state. Set in the fictional land of Chamrouche, the population is held sway to the message and power of the Frondists, the baffoonary leader of the Frondists is a past B-list actor called Balynt Zagoebal. The Frondists appeal to the base, xenophobic, boorish instincts; whipping the crowd up into a frenzied slathering mob against negs, spadgers, the literati, classical musicians, emigrants etc. This is of course very much relevant to our world today. Thirty years after this book was first published, populism, fascism and the far right are once again rearing their ugly heads around the world. 

I like the elements of the fantastical tale: humans which turn into birds and vice versa, a clown in a circus with necrophobia, members of a classical music quartet, three men just released from prison, a defiant literary writer. In their courageous defiance to authoritarian tyranny also lies a quivering terror, the climactic scene and aftermath is all too realistic.

Solo Viola is challenging to read for several reasons, I think Volodine is what might be termed a 'writer's writer.' Fellow writers will likely appreciate better his experimental format and style, the changes in perspective, the sentence structures, the looping narrative. Reading this takes concentration but in the right frame of mind, it can be an intellectual and visceral treat. 

Thanks to University of Minnesota Press and Netgalley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Somehow a book has managed to be both strange and boring. I had strong hopes for this at the very beginning outside the prison but I quickly lost interest and couldn't bring myself to finish this even though it's so short
Was this review helpful?
I found this quick read a perfect match for our time despite it being originally written some years ago. The observations remain shockingly true and accurate.
Was this review helpful?
3.5/5 stars

This is really unlike anything that I have read before. It was a short book, but packed a rather entertaining and powerful punch. It is a kind of surrealist and quirky story with a very assorted cast of characters, including a group of prisoners, a bird (yes an actual bird) and a circus-performing clown. While I think the writing was good and there book was entertaining overall, I admit that I think the substance was rather lost on me. I felt a bit out of my depth and a bit lost with the point. I can sometimes get into surrealist or almost absurdist books, although it is always a difficult feat for me. I think for this book, it was definitely a 'its me not you' situation. For someone with experience in the genre and who likes more abstract fiction, I think this could be an enjoyable and captivating read.
Was this review helpful?
Solo Viola is my first experience reading any work by Antonio Volodine. It was first released, in its original French, in the 1991, and is now having a new life in a new English translation as the world sees a resurgence of authoritarian leaders and regimes.

This short novel is intriguing, maddening and overwhelmingly sad. The central characters: three released prisoners; a writer and his artist friend; a classical string quartet; a woebegone circus troupe; a leader, a “malevolent buffoon,” who buys and bullies support from a mindless and adoring public. The story begins in a disjointed fashion but builds to a crescendo. A cautionary tale of sorts.

Recommended (a foreword explains much about this book, Volodine, and the meaning of post-exotic literature.)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I started the book in amazement. The story begins with a kind of enumeration of people and their history. In a fictional world, in the capital Chamrouche, three people are released from prison prematurely. We meet a circus troupe who involuntarily puts on a show in the town square, a string quartet rehearsing and the writer Iakoub Khadjbakiro.
Chamrouche is a totalitarian society. Balynt Zagobel is the charismatic fascist leader. The Frodists are his followers. They are the ones who is making a rally on the town square. We also meet immigrants from a distant land where both sexes have mustaches. And birds that are also humans. As well as many more. Everything happens in one day - the 27th of May - and all the characters' fates are intertwined.

The story is absurd. The imaginative and the political together tells an important story. About ordinary people who fall victim to forces outside of themselves. Some people's need for power and their urge to push other people down. Frodistene says: “One people. One culture. ” Everyone should look like each other. Everyone should like the same. Threats and violence are used to achieve this.
Solo Viola is a scary tale. Realistic in its surrealism. Fascist currents are spreading across our world today. To me, it is that we all have different colors, shapes, opinions and orientations that make the world interesting. The story is also humorous. Small glimpses of joy in a controlled world.
I read the book in one gulp. Under the umbrella on the porch, I sat completely still and swallowed this book.
Antoine Volodine is an unknown author to me. I found several titles by him I want to read. Translator Lia Swope Mitchell has done a masterful job of making the text flow seamlessly
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own
(my native language is not english)
Was this review helpful?
This book reminded me of Kafka's 'Metamorphosis'. Being in the fictional world that is ruled under a dictatorship, the characters' voice explores survival, identity and the outcomes of tyranny. 

Thank you NetGalley and University of Minnesota Press for giving me the opportunity to read this.
Was this review helpful?
Thanks NetGalley, University of Minnesota Press and Antoine Volodine for a copy to review.
First published in French an 1991, this is nothing like I ever read before. 
A powerful intense novella taking place in a fictional world, interesting and engaging but not for your typical reader indeed. 
Personally I liked it.
Was this review helpful?
By the middle of the first page, I was up for what could be a heck of a ride. This is an interesting allegorical tale of facing a totalitarian state with a none too bright but apparently charismatic leader, who is able to turn nearly an entire country against everything deemed culturally formative - literature, art, and especially music - backed by an army of thugs dressed in brown shirts, black pants, with red armbands featuring a white circle and a sort of twisted black spider within the circle.  While not altogether subtle, the familiarity with that hoard helps us understand the many allusions to human-like birds, detested and derided by the Frondists (those who follow the dictator, both officially and socially). I've seen other reviewers suggest that the birds represent the underground, those who are fighting the Frondist regime, but the descriptions of the birds can leave no doubt as to which ethno-religious group they represent.

Humorous and terrifying within the span of a single paragraph, this book is slim and deep enough that it nearly demands an immediate second reading to give a full appreciation to the brilliance of the writing.  

Sincere thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read a free digital ARC of this book; this in no way influenced by review or rating.

Four and a half stars.
Was this review helpful?
Solo Viola was written in French in 1991 and only recently translated into English by Lia Swope Mitchell with an excellent Foreward by Lionel Ruffel. The Russian-French author, here listed as Antoine Volodine, writes under a number of heteronyms and says this about himself: “One must see and understand Antoine Volodine as a collective signature that undertakes the writings, voices and poems of several other authors. One must understand my physical presence….as the presence of a delegate whose task is to represent the others, my comrades who have been prevented from appearing before you due to their mental distance, their incarceration, or their death.  One must allow my presence here as a spokesman.” Solo Viola is one of 49 planned works, only a few of which have been translated into English.

“Reading one of Iakoub Khadjbakiro’s novels often means traveling with no safety equipment, in grave danger, across the hauntings and shames of our time, into the heart of what other people repress and deny.”

The novel takes place in an unknown country, in an invented city.  “This is the story of” bird-like humans and human-like birds, musicians, politicians and circus performers.  I won’t add any specifics, because the experience won’t be the same if you know too much going in. I’d go so far as to recommend that you not read the Foreward until you’ve finished the novel.

From the Foreward: “You may wish to search on your own for any events that took place on some May 27 in the twentieth century”.

Inventive, moving, harrowing. Recommended.
Thank you to the publisher for the opportunity to review the ARC via Netgalley.
Was this review helpful?
Solo Viola, a tiny book filled with Big ideas written by Antoine Volodine, receives a brand new translation to be released at yet another politically appropriate juncture. It features a motley cast of characters in a world controlled by a clownish and bombastic authoritarian figure (familiar?) and surrealist yet highly lovely prose. 

However, I've rated this a three! Personally, I couldn't ever get drawn into the story 100%, or find myself relating to any of the characters. Perhaps this is my privilege talking or naivety, or maybe it just wasn't my cup of parable this time. This shouldn't detract from the timely nature of the message, and it's a quick enough read where it's not so much of a time suck to give it a shot to see if you feel differently from me. 

**I was given a copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Univ Of Minnesota Press**
Was this review helpful?
This is an exhilarating read--each sentence brings me to an unexpected place, whether it be into the lives of three newly released prisoners, or inside the head of a wounded bird, or in the shoes of a phobic clown. My only other experience of reading Antoine Volodine was with the exhilarating, maddening post-nuclear-apocalypse (maybe) story RADIANT TERMINUS. I would say that SOLO VIOLA is a similar read, for the way it bombards me with sense impressions as I read along, until I'm feeling many emotions, the chief among them being a profound sense of grief. I have no idea if this is the intention of the author but it's what happened to me. I was wrung out after reading this brief novel. I'm indifferent to the superstructure of stories and personae and contradictions that make up the Antoine Volodine mythos--this novel fortunately stands on its own.
Was this review helpful?
A powerful novella about a mixture of characters from just released prisoners, to circus performers, writers and a string quartet all living under the rule of an authoritarian government and their military heavies. First published in French in 1991, this translation reads as very current and applicable to various places around the world. The leader of the Frondists in the novella is typically buffoonish and interchangeable with his henchmen, willing to use racism to mobilise the masses. It’s quite an indictment on the behaviour of people in crowds and the need to chant stupid insulting slogans.
I was drawn into the story from the start and found it a quick, thoughtful and thought provoking read.
Was this review helpful?
While I'm not familiar with the author or his place in French literature, I can say this is an excellent short novel In many ways it reminds me of 20th century Eastern European novels about authoritarian rule: a sense of the absurdity of life in such a world, a savage portrayal of the banality of rulers, and an evocation of the random terror people live with.  The book is extremely funny in places and haunting in others.

Volodine also shows us the merger of entertainment and politics, as the climax of the book is a spectacle mounted by the government that combines extreme nationalism, the lowest entertainment, and orchestrated group-hate that spills into violence.  Even though the book was written 30 years ago, it is uncomfortably pertinent to current politics.

I can't speak to the accuracy of the translation, but the English is rich and readable.

All in all, this is an important book and highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
This was my entry into Antoine Volodine's unique literary project, which he promises can be read in any order. Volodine is only one of a number of heteronyms used by the French-Russian writer behind them, which is certainly unusual but not unheard of, while each of these personas is writing from the same alternate reality. In this reality these writers are all left-wing prisoners in a totalitarian state, telling each other stories, and birds are human-like members of the resistance. Weird, huh. The project so far consists of 44 of a planned 49 works published in France over four decades, under various of the heteronyms, and together they make up the "post-exotic" literature. Eight have been translated into English over the last 25 years and there are three new translations coming out in 2021 to push that total to 11, of which Solo Viola, published by the University of Minnesota Press is one. 

Solo Viola consists of two main parts with a short postscript. The first section had me in mind of Italo Calvino. It has that fable-like, somewhat whimsical quality to it. It introduces the reader to several groups of separate characters in a capital city. There are three just released prisoners - a horse thief, a circus wrestler, and a bird. There are four members of a string quartet. There is the horse thief's more successful brother. There are millions of Frondists, followers of a populist nationalism that controls political and public life, expert in manipulating the dark currents of the human soul. There is a clown. And there is a writer:

He is not content to offer peevish, bitter pronouncements about the world that surrounds him. He does not reproduce in exact detail the elemental brutality to which humanity has been reduced, the bestial tragedy of their fate... [his] usual process was to replace the hideousness of current events with his own absurd images. His own partial hallucinations, both troubled and troubling. Most of the time, although obviously not always, he obeyed the rules of logic... suddenly his exotic parallel worlds would coincide with something buried in some random person's unconscious mind. Suddenly, that reader would emerge from the subterranean levels of mirage and onto the main square of the capital... he was unable to render on paper, without metaphors, his disgust, the nausea that seized him when he faced the present day and the inhabitants of that present... we approach the story of a man who lives in the anguish of being unclear, a man who spends twenty-four hours a day obsessed by the real, but who nevertheless expresses himself in an esoteric, sibylline manner, locating his heroes in nebulous societies and unrecognizable times.

I imagine we can take this description of the character of Iakoub Khadjbakiro (all characters in this novel have exotic sounding names to this reader, often seeming to bear some resemblance to Armenian ones) as a fair description of the author's decades-long project. And if he was horrified by ominous developments concerning populist nationalism in 1991, when this novel was published in France, he would hardly be less so when considering political developments in the Western world leading up to 2021. Thus his project unfortunately has just as much relevance today as at any time in the last forty years of its compilation.

All these characters, and Frondism, come together in the second part of the novel in a gradually building set piece of horror that reflects an attack on the arts and its supporters, an attack on a perceived cultural elite by the populist mass expertly manipulated by totalitarian leadership. Those of us who enjoy a good string quartet performance will be rather uncomfortable here. Volodine portrays the helplessness of those who become the target of the totalitarian mob's rage, a mob for whom, as would be said of Donald Trump's rallies twenty five years after this book's publication, the cruelty is the point.

The brief postscript suggests, in my initial read at least, that escape from this fate is only partially achievable by turning away from the reality of human nature and society and turning inward to the world of imagination, where we can at least imagine a society of the brotherhood of man - but which would ironically only exist in the mind of a sole person, and which here is suggested by a solo viola playing. I'll have to read more of the author to see if that fatalistic reading holds!
Was this review helpful?
thanks to netgalley for the arc.

this was a beautiful lyrical read. it was short and sweet and i enjoyed it a lot.
Was this review helpful?
Dear publisher,

Please accept my apology, but I requested this book accidentally and I will not be able to read/review it. Due to Net Galley processes, I was not able to cancel the request and because I need to provide a star rating, I have entered 5 stars (but please discount my rating since I was not able to review).

Thank you for your understanding.
Was this review helpful?