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"Bae Suah offers the chance to unknow—to see the everyday afresh and be defamiliarized with what we believe we know—which is no small offering."—Sophie Hughes, Music & Literature Near the beginning of A Greater Music, the narrator, a young Korean writer, falls into an icy river in the Berlin suburbs, where she's been housesitting for her on-off boyfriend Joachim. This sets "Bae Suah offers the chance to unknow—to see the everyday afresh and be defamiliarized with what we believe we know—which is no small offering."—Sophie Hughes, Music & Literature Near the beginning of A Greater Music, the narrator, a young Korean writer, falls into an icy river in the Berlin suburbs, where she's been housesitting for her on-off boyfriend Joachim. This sets into motion a series of memories that move between the hazily defined present and the period three years ago when she first lived in Berlin. Throughout, the narrator's relationship with Joachim, a rough-and-ready metalworker, is contrasted with her friendship with M, an ultra-refined music-loving German teacher, whom, it is suggested, later became her lesbian lover. A novel of memories and wandering, A Greater Music blends riffs on music, language, and literature with a gut-punch of an emotional ending, establishing Bae Suah as one of the most exciting novelists working today. Bae Suah, one of the most highly acclaimed contemporary Korean authors, has published more than a dozen works and won several prestigious awards. She has also translated several books from the German, including works by W. G. Sebald, Franz Kafka, and Jenny Erpenbeck. Her first book to appear in English, Nowhere to be Found, was longlisted for a PEN Translation Prize. Deborah Smith's literary translations from the Korean include two novels by Han Kang (The Vegetarian and Human Acts), and two by Bae Suah, (A Greater Music and Recitation).


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"Bae Suah offers the chance to unknow—to see the everyday afresh and be defamiliarized with what we believe we know—which is no small offering."—Sophie Hughes, Music & Literature Near the beginning of A Greater Music, the narrator, a young Korean writer, falls into an icy river in the Berlin suburbs, where she's been housesitting for her on-off boyfriend Joachim. This sets "Bae Suah offers the chance to unknow—to see the everyday afresh and be defamiliarized with what we believe we know—which is no small offering."—Sophie Hughes, Music & Literature Near the beginning of A Greater Music, the narrator, a young Korean writer, falls into an icy river in the Berlin suburbs, where she's been housesitting for her on-off boyfriend Joachim. This sets into motion a series of memories that move between the hazily defined present and the period three years ago when she first lived in Berlin. Throughout, the narrator's relationship with Joachim, a rough-and-ready metalworker, is contrasted with her friendship with M, an ultra-refined music-loving German teacher, whom, it is suggested, later became her lesbian lover. A novel of memories and wandering, A Greater Music blends riffs on music, language, and literature with a gut-punch of an emotional ending, establishing Bae Suah as one of the most exciting novelists working today. Bae Suah, one of the most highly acclaimed contemporary Korean authors, has published more than a dozen works and won several prestigious awards. She has also translated several books from the German, including works by W. G. Sebald, Franz Kafka, and Jenny Erpenbeck. Her first book to appear in English, Nowhere to be Found, was longlisted for a PEN Translation Prize. Deborah Smith's literary translations from the Korean include two novels by Han Kang (The Vegetarian and Human Acts), and two by Bae Suah, (A Greater Music and Recitation).

30 review for A Greater Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    L.S. Popovich

    Bae Suah offers a complex psychological portrait in this highly intelligent, introspective novel. Though entertaining, it reads with a meditative pace, and is rich in detail and keen observation. It discusses the way language sets up barriers, but also tears them down. Music can act in much the same way. Suah equates music to a form of language. The author is also a translator from German, and the recounting of the main character's relationships and life in Europe was fascinating. Add to this th Bae Suah offers a complex psychological portrait in this highly intelligent, introspective novel. Though entertaining, it reads with a meditative pace, and is rich in detail and keen observation. It discusses the way language sets up barriers, but also tears them down. Music can act in much the same way. Suah equates music to a form of language. The author is also a translator from German, and the recounting of the main character's relationships and life in Europe was fascinating. Add to this the astute observations on literature and film, and you get a very readable, informative novel. The author has a singular voice, casting a possibly autobiographical character in a unique role, chasing after her version of love. I thought that the uncertainty she encounters in a foreign culture, and among people with differing viewpoints was spot on. The elegant contrast of the narrator's relationship between M. and Joachim were appreciated. Shades of Kafka and Kundera could be found here and there. Boiling it all down, you should have a lot of fun with this novel if you read literary fiction. It's cutting edge, poignant and lovely, and I know I will be reading everything else she writes in English translation.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    배수아 (Bae Suah)'s 2003 novel 에세이스트의 책상 (literally: Essayist's Desk) has been translated by the MBI winning Deborah Smith as A Greater Music. Pet peeve alert: the 3rd Bae Suah novel I have read and the third where the publisher has decided to change the title completely in English. For this and Recitation, the Korean title comes from a concluding image towards the novel's end, whereas the English publishers have chosen to take an image from the first page. While 배수아 is always worth reading, I ultima 배수아 (Bae Suah)'s 2003 novel 에세이스트의 책상 (literally: Essayist's Desk) has been translated by the MBI winning Deborah Smith as A Greater Music. Pet peeve alert: the 3rd Bae Suah novel I have read and the third where the publisher has decided to change the title completely in English. For this and Recitation, the Korean title comes from a concluding image towards the novel's end, whereas the English publishers have chosen to take an image from the first page. While 배수아 is always worth reading, I ultimately didn't find this quite as compelling as Nowhere to Be Found or Recitation. As usual with her novels, the chronology of events is deliberately vague but the novel essentially tells the story of our unnamed Korean narrator's two periods of time, three years apart, spent in Germany, and her two contrasting personal relationships, with Joachim and M. Joachim is a metalworker (although studying physics), straightforward, physically robust and (to the narrator) uncultured, for example on literature: Novels [in his flat] were represented solely by the English-language versions of the Harry Potter series and American Psycho. And Joachim, seeing her reading more literary fiction, comments: I had to read this one book called The Tin Drum, you know it? Insanely long, and even more tedious than Latin; the kind of thing where you don't have a clue what the hell happened after you read it. The novel's title comes from the opening line when, listening with M to Shostakovich on the radio, the presenter describes it as "Greater Music." The narrator rejects this label: Music is absolute, just like death. Just as "greater death" or "lesser death" is a logical impossibility, so the same can be said of music, which is of the same order as the soul. A comparison can not be made between listening to Beethoven's concerto no 2 or no 3 as if one were "lesser" and one "greater". Although her regard for all music as of equal order doesn't extend to the "contemporary dross" that Joachim enjoys. Even looking back on her childhood, the narrator remarks: Even then I knew that La Traviata or Fischer-Dieskau were more beautiful than ABBA, but if I didn't listen to ABBA then I couldn't join in when my classmates enthused over their favourite songs. M., who was introduced to the narrator by Joachim as a German language teacher, could hardly be a greater contrast to him: female but physically androgynous, physically frail, a severe allergy sufferer, complex, "a voracious reader and cultural obsessive" and, in particular, passionate about classical music. My key reservation is that the contrast between M. and Joachim as two sides of a cultural coin is drawn too obviously, and it is unconvincing that the artistically snobbish narrator, who goes out of her way to disdain popular culture (whose mind-numbing facile simplicity meant they could be enjoyed without any form of critical engagement), could have been in a relationship with Joachim. One of Bae's key themes in the novel is the difficulties of relationships and expression across linguistic, and hence cultural, barriers. Indeed this is a recurrent theme in her work as she has said in interviews: "my recent characters often are on a voyage, and experience linguistic confusion in foreign countries and have difficulty in articulating their thoughts." (http://thethreewisemonkeys.com/2014/1...) The contrasting views of the three characters are neatly highlighted in a discussion of M's rather unusual approach to language, which starts with literature and complex concepts and works back to grammar and basic vocabulary: It's difficult for me to distinguish between 'desolate', 'bare', 'lonely', 'abandoned' and 'empty', all of which seem to mean something quite similar. My understanding of their various nuances is sketchy to say the least. What M tried to teach me wasn't so much the meaning of each individual word, but the absolute, universal concepts to which the words referred, those fundamental concepts which each of the many different languages in the world call by a different name. [...] Ultimately "learning a foreign language" is too simplistic an expression for a process which is more like crossing a border; similarly, a human being is only possible through language, not because language is our only means of communication, but because it is the only tool precisely calibrated for the application of critical thought. But to me... a mother tongue isn't a border that can just be crossed, not even with the strongest will in the world. Even after fully mastering a foreign language (if such a thing is ever possible) your mother tongue still acts as a prison for your consciousness. [...] Joachim insists I make M. refund the language fees. He couldn't understand how on the one hand I was using predicates meaning "solid description of conditions" and "establishment of descriptions," or (to him) senseless expressions like "hybridity of words" and asking him to explain absurd phrases which no one used like "medieval itinerant students" or "solipsism", when on the other hand, if I went to buy something at the supermarket, words like sugar, flour or biscuit would leave me stumped. On this - and the relative merits of ABBA vs. La Traviata - this reader found it difficult not to side with Joachim! The narrator also digresses into her own literary tastes, both well-known writers such as Kafka but also the lesser-known Jakob Hein - the latter seeming to be an odd plug for the author's own work as a Hein novel was the first novelist Bae Suah herself translated from German into Korean, her translation appearing the same year as this novel. The novel is at its strongest when it leaves Joachim-bashing, and moves on both to the delicate relationship between M and the narrator. This has its routes in Bae Suah's own experience as she explains in the aforementioned interview: "One day I was deeply inspired and fell in love. The person was my German teacher. It’s a common enough occurrence. We can easily fall in love with an excellent teacher. But as it happens, that German teacher wasn’t a man. But the novel describes their love very platonically. That’s why I think Essayist is half-success and half-failure. I lacked the courage to go forward, and my feelings were too much like those of a young girl in middle school. But the situation wouldn’t have been much different even if that German teacher had been a male. And so the novel doesn’t have any same-sex code." The narrator and M's love affair is haunted by the spectre of the latter's impending visa expiry which will force her to move, for a period, back to Korea. The narrator tries to imagine herself into M's feelings: The transfixing pain of a shaft of ice cast by a frozen autumn day, the internal conflict between doubting love and simultaneously craving it, desperately seeking constant assurances, fear of being abandoned, envy toward the one who is free to leave, the suffocating premonition that the moment will come when our love will be lost, when we become strangers to each other, knowing, at the end of our love, no more of each other than we had done before its first stirrings, and worst of all is that none of this will have the power to move me any more, to produce even the faintest pang of regret. The relationship (Bae Suah comes to an emotional and painful end before the narrator's departure and on her second visit the narrator ducks all questions, including from Joachim, as to why she has not recontacted M. And the novel concludes (the passage that gives rise to the original title): At my desk I continue to write. As Peter Handke says, "Only when I'm writing do I feel myself and am truly at home." Where it comes from and where it goes, on that its lips are sealed.

  3. 4 out of 5

    jeremy

    bae suah's a greater music, the second (or is it third?) of the korean author's novels to be translated into english, is a ruminative, reflective tale of romance and relationships. as bae's narrator recalls her two lovers, she muses upon both music and literature, recounting both the promise and peril of once-possible love. a ghostliness stalks a greater music, much like a dirge or elegy may linger long, infusing bae's story and her impressive prose with an unassuming air of arousal and bewitche bae suah's a greater music, the second (or is it third?) of the korean author's novels to be translated into english, is a ruminative, reflective tale of romance and relationships. as bae's narrator recalls her two lovers, she muses upon both music and literature, recounting both the promise and peril of once-possible love. a ghostliness stalks a greater music, much like a dirge or elegy may linger long, infusing bae's story and her impressive prose with an unassuming air of arousal and bewitchery. neither sadness, fear, nor despair, but gravity, endless and immense, has taken hold of me. i'm wandering between the houses, their numbers painted on white signs. i must be lost. it seemed i'd experienced brutal acts but could no longer remember them. no, i was simply struck by the sense of memory's intangibility, torn between struggling to recall certain events as something concrete, and the instinct to leave them safely in the nebulous past. *translated from the korean by the booker international-winning deborah smith (han kang's the vegetarian)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Goodreads Giveaway Winner Wow, Bae Suah can write. The sentences are beautiful but in a way that compels you forward instead of weighing you down with heavy language and metaphor. She writes in a way that puts you into the mind-space of the narrator. In this case, you're in a constant state of apathy and nihilism. Bae Suah also plays with time in a way that makes you wonder where you are throughout the novel. At first I thought I had missed something, missed a plot-point or simply too dumb to get Goodreads Giveaway Winner Wow, Bae Suah can write. The sentences are beautiful but in a way that compels you forward instead of weighing you down with heavy language and metaphor. She writes in a way that puts you into the mind-space of the narrator. In this case, you're in a constant state of apathy and nihilism. Bae Suah also plays with time in a way that makes you wonder where you are throughout the novel. At first I thought I had missed something, missed a plot-point or simply too dumb to get it but where you are in the time-space continuum comes around at the end. You never know where you are but you see that perhaps you're not supposed to know where you are. A thorough engrossing and smart reading experience.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tobias

    Really enjoyed this. Mysterious and disconcerting, with plenty of questions about art and language and identity posed throughout.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    I'm dropping this from 4 to 3.5 stars because there are just so many elements that weren't working. But it's frustrating because at the same time there are parts of the prose that absolutely sang. The novel follows a Korean woman to Germany where she tries to learn the language. It focuses on two romantic relationships she has while there, and the parts where she talks about M. are definitely the best parts of the novel. I suspect that it is at least partially autobiographical since Bae Suah is K I'm dropping this from 4 to 3.5 stars because there are just so many elements that weren't working. But it's frustrating because at the same time there are parts of the prose that absolutely sang. The novel follows a Korean woman to Germany where she tries to learn the language. It focuses on two romantic relationships she has while there, and the parts where she talks about M. are definitely the best parts of the novel. I suspect that it is at least partially autobiographical since Bae Suah is Korean and also a German translator, and you can tell by the way she writes that she's been hugely influenced by certain German writers. And while I absolutely love the style of prose she employs, I am not always understanding why she has chosen to write in this style. The constant sense of melancholy here just seems melodramatic and unwarranted when spoken by a relatively privileged traveling Korean, whereas post-war German literature at least has a reason to be melancholy. I mean, she's traveling the world, learning new languages, meeting new people, even falling in love. This same story could be re-written in a completely different novel of first love, happiness, freedom, and empowerment. There's nothing to be sad about here, other than some missed opportunities re: love. And even that is her own damn fault for not communicating better. The book starts off very slow and abstract, almost too abstract; the narrator ponders the relationship between music and death, and because we really don't know anything about the narrator yet, these philosophical musings really don't mean much. We don't really know how to read them. On top of that, her thoughts don't even make any sense. This might be because of the translation, but she says, essentially, that the term "A Greater Music" which she heard on the radio interested her in that music is something that can't be greater or less than. Like death, which is just death, and no death is greater or less than any other:Music is absolute, just like death. Just as "greater death" or "lesser death" is a logical impossibility, so the same can be said of music, which is of the same order as the soul. A comparison can not be made between listening to Beethoven's concerto no 2 or no 3 as if one were "lesser" and one "greater".But then this is the same narrator who spends pages talking about how certain music, film, books, and even people (I feel bad for her friend whom she goes to the movies with) are inferior to others. I mean, seriously, this is the most spoiled and snobby narrator. She looks down on anything that isn't high art. So what does she mean when she says there's no "greater" music? Is it that anything that doesn't meet her standards of greatness isn't even qualified to be called "music" at all? I kept wondering "what is the purpose of having this narrator so snobby? How does it fit in with the themes of music/death/love, etc.?" but I couldn't figure it out, so I'm starting to think this is just the way she has written the narrator because Bae Suah is kinda snobby herself (maybe?). The other frustrating part about the book is her relationship with Joachim. As snobby as she is, I don't see how she could have ended up with Joachim, who is basically a dude's dude, and has nothing in common with her. The only function of Joachim is to stand in contrast to M. who is more intellectual and sophisticated in every way. Is the narrator saying that M. is a "greater person/lover" than Joachim? Or that there is no "greater person"? In any case, there are some sections that I enjoyed a lot, including her relationship with M. and some of her later philosophizing, when it isn't too snobby. She sometimes quotes books she reads but doesn't tell us the source, did she actually write it? as here:"Such a sequence has no real existence in our mental world. The only thing that truly communicates real, intimate existence to us is the fact that, strictly speaking, the present does not exist. Time becomes a stale model of itself..."It sounds vaguely like the German author I linked to above, but I don't know for sure who wrote it and googling didn't return any results. I want to read more from Bae Suah, because despite all my complaints about this book, I still really liked her sentences and think that some parts of the book were really good.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I feel almost guilty giving this melancholy book with some beautiful phrasing only two stars. The narrator, name unknown (I think) is an odd woman, apparently affected somehow from falling into an icy river in Berlin, and the book shuffles between realities - the present and the past. This format - the nonlinear narrative - was somewhat confusing but I enjoy a literary challenge at times. The issue was that the three main characters (the narrator, the girlfriend, the boyfriend) are not likeable p I feel almost guilty giving this melancholy book with some beautiful phrasing only two stars. The narrator, name unknown (I think) is an odd woman, apparently affected somehow from falling into an icy river in Berlin, and the book shuffles between realities - the present and the past. This format - the nonlinear narrative - was somewhat confusing but I enjoy a literary challenge at times. The issue was that the three main characters (the narrator, the girlfriend, the boyfriend) are not likeable people. I can forgive the boyfriend for being rude because he was relatively "normal", but the girlfriend? She wasn't appealing to me. Too smart? Too sickly? Who talks like that? And the narrator! She came across as pretentious, precocious, and depressed. There is some beautiful language in here, sometimes evoking a dreamscape, but ultimately it was very unsatisfying to feel judged by a narrator who thinks she is better than me. FYI: This story of a Korean woman going to school in Germany was written in Korean originally.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kristopher

    This book was quite different from any other book I've read. The writing style is reminiscent of what I think about early 20th century books; there are long, rambling paragraphs dense with description and ambling digressions. To me, this is both a feature and a bug. On the one hand, the writing is rich and robust. We feel the cut of the cold rain slicing in through the open car window in the first scene of the book, and we deeply understand how the cold affects M, the protagonist's obsession. Ba This book was quite different from any other book I've read. The writing style is reminiscent of what I think about early 20th century books; there are long, rambling paragraphs dense with description and ambling digressions. To me, this is both a feature and a bug. On the one hand, the writing is rich and robust. We feel the cut of the cold rain slicing in through the open car window in the first scene of the book, and we deeply understand how the cold affects M, the protagonist's obsession. Bae writes frequently and at length about music; some of the pieces I know and some of them are new to me. But in each case, you can almost hear the notes floating through the scene, and you absolutely come to understand how the music affects the narrator. On the other hand, this book is not an easy read. This is not the kind of book you take with you to bed, or crack open while you wait a handful of minutes for the train to arrive. This is the kind of book you sit down with for a half an hour or three with a cup of something hot and immerse yourself into the world Bae skillfully weaves. I stopped and re-read several passages; other times, I would find my attention waning a little and then realize that I'd lost the thread of the narrative because of one of the many digressions that slip through time and reality and memory and desire. However, the writing is truly beautiful. Bae writes, for example: "You can't simply assume that attending a visiting professor's lectures on linguistics, during which the blackboard gets covered with a prosodic structure chain every bit as incomprehensible as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, an incomprehensibility further compounded by the said professor's relentless chatter, is an extravagant pleasure, the preserve of those social classes for whom money is no object, especially when the person involved has entirely relinquished hotel stays, a car, and expensive clothes, or else was already entirely indifferent to such things." So much story packed into one, albeit long, sentence. This is the stuff the book is made of. So I'm rating it three stars because I found the writing beautiful but challenging. The story was a bit hard to follow, but where the narrative sang out, it was captivating and heart-breaking. I strongly suspect this book will benefit from a re-read, something I don't do very often. But I plan to read this book again sometime in early 2017. When I do, I'll come back and give it an update. Full disclosure: I was provided this book for free as part of a Goodreads Giveaway. Grateful as I am for the gift, I have nevertheless attempted here to give as unbiased a review as possible.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jaimie Lau

    It felt a lot longer than it was. Large parts of the book came across as repetitive with the narrator seemingly namedropping authors and composers ad nauseam without making or providing any insight or proper connection with the narrative itself. The characters are limited and unlikeable. The main character (and narrator) is so dismissive, judgemental and pretentious that is hard to find any common ground with which to relate to what she is going through. The way she views her supposed friends, J It felt a lot longer than it was. Large parts of the book came across as repetitive with the narrator seemingly namedropping authors and composers ad nauseam without making or providing any insight or proper connection with the narrative itself. The characters are limited and unlikeable. The main character (and narrator) is so dismissive, judgemental and pretentious that is hard to find any common ground with which to relate to what she is going through. The way she views her supposed friends, Joachim and Sumi, borders on contemptuous yet she still manages to put the vile character of "M" (a character devoid of any warmth yet exhibiting sociopathic tendencies) at the centre of her very limited existence. The narrator lacks any sort of self-awareness and her immaturity makes it difficult to enjoy any aspect of the plot as it is. If these characteristics were intentional on the part of the author, it is difficult to understand exactly why.

  10. 4 out of 5

    kasia

    This is an unabashedly intellectual book: without a clear plot, the narrator muses on the nature of language, music, and relationships, while occasionally commenting on books she's read. But like the best such analytical works, it is also emotionally engrossing, in large part because of the beauty of its prose. Very little "happens" -- but I did not want to put it down. It reminded me of Sebald, but maybe that's mostly because it was set in Berlin and somewhat melancholy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

    My review appears in New York Journal of Books. My review appears in New York Journal of Books.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Xyz13

    Stylistically beautiful and lyrical, but with only the barest hint of a plot, and characters without any depth.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sanjana

    The narrator is an unnamed Korean, describing 2 periods of her life spent in Germany, 3 years apart. Her relationship with Joachim, a welder, is contrasted with her relationship with M, her German teacher. The timeline of events described are hazy at best and the whole book has a very grim vibe. These are the narrator’s philosophical musings on music, books, art, language, love and friendship. She even goes on a multi-page rant on how pop culture revolts her : “I… I don’t like all that ‘over-acce The narrator is an unnamed Korean, describing 2 periods of her life spent in Germany, 3 years apart. Her relationship with Joachim, a welder, is contrasted with her relationship with M, her German teacher. The timeline of events described are hazy at best and the whole book has a very grim vibe. These are the narrator’s philosophical musings on music, books, art, language, love and friendship. She even goes on a multi-page rant on how pop culture revolts her : “I… I don’t like all that ‘over-accessibility’, you know, things that are deliberately designed to have the broadest possible appeal.” But mostly, she wants to learn and be able to write in German. One of the themes of the book is language and how it could serve as a barrier in inter-cultural relationships, but it never stops us from trying. Music transcends barriers and language. I dived into the book knowing nothing of the “plot” and you should too, because there isn’t much of a plot to begin with. This is a slow read, despite the deceptive length of the book. The prose is simply exquisite. I couldn’t get enough of it and found myself reading many of the passages twice or thrice over. This book is a must-read for lovers of literary fiction (Kundera, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Gunter Grass), western classical music (Schubert, Shostakovich, Beethoven) and art in general. (Read to discover a horrific fact about the lengths to which Andrei Tarkovsky would go to for the sake of “art”.) Bae Suah (who is also known for translating German books to Korean) has been criticised for “doing violence to the Korean Language” for A Greater Music - because its Korean read too much like it had been translated from German. It is precisely this criticism which made Deborah Smith, the book’s translator, seek out Bae Suah’s work. Deborah Smith also translated The Vegetarian by Han Kang, which I thought was atrocious. After reading A Greater Music, I don’t think it had anything to do with the quality of the translation.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jasun Chelat

    just not my type I don't like classical music

  15. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    It's the fourth of July and because I denied (and still do) updating my phone, a family member has spent all day dedicating his livelihood to updating it. Apparently, when one attempts to update a phone that hasn't been updated in years, a multitude of problems occur. He never did figure it out. And that's what I remember, and will continue to recall, when thinking of this July. His incessant need to outwit and outmaneuver this coy phone took him away from what's important. That's exactly what b It's the fourth of July and because I denied (and still do) updating my phone, a family member has spent all day dedicating his livelihood to updating it. Apparently, when one attempts to update a phone that hasn't been updated in years, a multitude of problems occur. He never did figure it out. And that's what I remember, and will continue to recall, when thinking of this July. His incessant need to outwit and outmaneuver this coy phone took him away from what's important. That's exactly what broke up the narrator and her 'M'. Spite, shame, neglect, possession, these petty words she uses to describe why their relationship failed. Is this truly how childlike we are, allowing every little misfortune control of our futures? A few small comments and a hole the narrator dug herself caused her the loss of everything. Despite the intellect she assumes when describing her pitiful life, it does not change. She is still pitiful. And here she is using beautiful words and ambiguous prose to make us feel, to make us empathize. She appeared to be writing so much, but no, she declared a mind of creativity and openness, yet, everything she dove into was superficial, much like all that she had declared superficial within the chapters. It is just written in a way that makes it appear to be more. Bae Suah can write, and exotically. But this book became boring, and I only finished it because it was so short. If you like fluff that pretends to be philosophical with an air of aboveness, give this a go. What it is not is a love story.

  16. 4 out of 5

    World Literature Today

    "A Greater Music is another addition to a growing body of literature that explores the idea that human sexuality is more pliable and fluid than the rigid labels we assign to it. When the unnamed narrator of this story falls into an icy lake while visiting her boyfriend, Joachim, in Berlin, her memories of past and present blur together into a meandering and reflective narrative. " - Melissa Beck This book was reviewed in the November/December 2016 issue of World Literature Today magazine. Read th "A Greater Music is another addition to a growing body of literature that explores the idea that human sexuality is more pliable and fluid than the rigid labels we assign to it. When the unnamed narrator of this story falls into an icy lake while visiting her boyfriend, Joachim, in Berlin, her memories of past and present blur together into a meandering and reflective narrative. " - Melissa Beck This book was reviewed in the November/December 2016 issue of World Literature Today magazine. Read the full review by visiting our website: http://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/2...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Raechel

    if this book had a plot, I couldn't seem to find it, among all the reviews of other books, and metaphysical wanderings about the human condition. this feels as if it was a thrown together series of blog posts, perhaps something a young writer throws together on some free publishing app, like wattpadd. this book tried to be poetic. it's long rambling sentences left me just ready ng, and not comprehending. thinking over and over again: why is this relevant? what am I trying to be told? it was, overa if this book had a plot, I couldn't seem to find it, among all the reviews of other books, and metaphysical wanderings about the human condition. this feels as if it was a thrown together series of blog posts, perhaps something a young writer throws together on some free publishing app, like wattpadd. this book tried to be poetic. it's long rambling sentences left me just ready ng, and not comprehending. thinking over and over again: why is this relevant? what am I trying to be told? it was, overall, incredibly dull, dense, and SNOOTY.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Karson

    Really interesting writing, but I fundamentally disagree with Bae on the nature of mind. Also, the whole relationship with Joachim seemed underdeveloped (why does she like him at all based on what we know of her other relationships?), potentially even superfluous. I find Bae to sometimes be very haughty, pretentious, pessimistic and harsh as well. Still, interesting enough to where I might be interested in reading another of her works at some point.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Teatum

    I finished this on my flight to Raleigh. And there was no one with whom I cold share this weird empty feeling I had when I finished this. Beautiful, picks up around Section 7. It's a novel, but not in a traditional style. Memories, blurry timelines, uncertainty of what's now and what's passed.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Good enough not to ruin MJ's sister's Christmas.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Croft

    This is beautiful, and gloriously translated by Deborah Smith. Sebaldian but unique.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brooks

    A ruminative read covering language, music, art, and love. Interesting, but not compelling.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    This book taught me more about classical music than I cared knowing.

  24. 5 out of 5

    James F

    The longest book I've read so far by Bae Suah; the structure seemed as though she wasn't quite adept yet at arranging a longer story. You do want to build up to a climax with more interesting material as you go along, but in this case the beginning is just too boring to really get into, and I almost gave up before I got through the first 40%. The early parts focus on the unnamed narrator's (never well-defined) relationship with her boyfriend(?) Joachim and his uninteresting family -- frankly, th The longest book I've read so far by Bae Suah; the structure seemed as though she wasn't quite adept yet at arranging a longer story. You do want to build up to a climax with more interesting material as you go along, but in this case the beginning is just too boring to really get into, and I almost gave up before I got through the first 40%. The early parts focus on the unnamed narrator's (never well-defined) relationship with her boyfriend(?) Joachim and his uninteresting family -- frankly, they didn't seem to even like each other very much, but that wasn't really a surprise given the failed relationships in the two other books I've read by Bae. Nothing really interested me, not even the somewhat obscurely written part near the beginning where she falls into the river through the ice and thinks she is going to die. About 40% in however, her memories turn to her childhood -- a very interesting account of how schools turn off the most intelligent students, so that they sometimes turn out to be the least well-educated by the end -- and then toward her homoerotic relationship (although there are no sex scenes, or even real love scenes) with M., which are far better done. The last 60% of the book was a relatively good novel. One of the recurrent themes of the book is that the order of past, present, future is purely in the senses, and that there really is no present; thus the narrative moves from time to time and place to place without really establishing what is the present time of the novel; an interesting enough technique in itself, but somewhat disorienting here. The majority of the action takes place at two times in Berlin, the first time as an exchange student who is trying to learn German (M. is giving her private lessons) and the second time when she returns (from a trip back to Korea) to dog-sit for Joachim's dog Benny, which is the situation she is in at the beginning of the book. Her early days and a short intermediate period are set in Seoul. There were many interesting passages about music and literature, which were the basis of her relationship with M., but they weren't really well-integrated with the narrative. Bae is often credited with continuing an earlier focus of Korean literature on working-class people which has been superceded recently with novels about the "middle class" and the rich (like most American novels); so I was very disappointed that this novel stereotypes the working-class Joachim (a metalworker) as anti-intellectual and concerned only with making money, while the upper-class M. (the narrator defends her against Joachim's claims that she is rich, but she doesn't work a normal job) is the sensitive, artistic/literary role model. In short, if this had left out Joachim and just focused on the narrator and M. I would have rated it much more highly. Interestingly, the novel ends with a quotation from Peter Handke, whom I have just begun reading this week.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robert Gebhardt

    "A Greater Music" was extremely relatable to me in various different ways, especially vis-a-vis the difficulties of having to maintain a relationship in a second language and having visa permit issues intrude upon a relationship. But that would make it sound much more pragmatic than it is. In essence the novel compares and contrasts two relationships with two very different people (possibly a bit too obviously different), all recounted in memories that are probably reminiscent of Proust's À la r "A Greater Music" was extremely relatable to me in various different ways, especially vis-a-vis the difficulties of having to maintain a relationship in a second language and having visa permit issues intrude upon a relationship. But that would make it sound much more pragmatic than it is. In essence the novel compares and contrasts two relationships with two very different people (possibly a bit too obviously different), all recounted in memories that are probably reminiscent of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. I say probably because I haven't read Proust, but that is how I imagine a novel that begins with the memories sparked by the smell of Madeleines to proceed. "A Greater music" also plays around with time, not making everything linear. However, it doesn't go as far as Time in gray, in that, the actions actually did occur linearly, only they are remembered at different moments. Btw, is it pedantic of me to be annoyed at the English translator for having written "Erich invited M and I to his birthday party" (p. 80)? Oh well, I'll be pedantic. That annoyed me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sungjoon Hwang

    It was a shock. "Greater" meant "more" from the original novel in Korean. Unlike the original title, An essayist's desk, centered on the narrator, I, this title focuses on "Music" symbolizing changes in consciousness and mentality and "Language" connecting the relationship of I and M. Music here combines the listed musical works and their abstract meanings and then exquisitely describes the situation and the state of mind at the time. The portraying them with breathtakingly long sentences that le It was a shock. "Greater" meant "more" from the original novel in Korean. Unlike the original title, An essayist's desk, centered on the narrator, I, this title focuses on "Music" symbolizing changes in consciousness and mentality and "Language" connecting the relationship of I and M. Music here combines the listed musical works and their abstract meanings and then exquisitely describes the situation and the state of mind at the time. The portraying them with breathtakingly long sentences that leads to complete exhaustion is arduous, tingling and sometimes heavily depressing. Is it simply a love story of two? It can't be given the understanding the psychological state is as hard as reading the incredible and dramatic portrayals, which are not enough to say it's beautiful. Rather, it can be a wandering story between the absolute value with secular defect and the apparent but snobbish beauty giving comforts. She comes back to her first place and it is another question to figure out what she had on her mind. Why did I then weep leaving a few pages before the end?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lane Pybas

    A Greater Music is a gloomy, introspective novella about memory, time, and one’s relationship to oneself and to others. A Korean woman, the narrator, returns to Berlin where she studied German as a student after several years away. She stays at a former boyfriend’s apartment, attends a claustrophobic New Year’s Eve Party, and enacts a solitary routine of undisclosed length, visiting cafes in the snow and mulling about her writing career. In the beginning of the book, the woman’s ex-boyfriend con A Greater Music is a gloomy, introspective novella about memory, time, and one’s relationship to oneself and to others. A Korean woman, the narrator, returns to Berlin where she studied German as a student after several years away. She stays at a former boyfriend’s apartment, attends a claustrophobic New Year’s Eve Party, and enacts a solitary routine of undisclosed length, visiting cafes in the snow and mulling about her writing career. In the beginning of the book, the woman’s ex-boyfriend continually inquires about her old friend M, a mysterious German tutor with whom she was in love. The second half of the book consists of the woman’s memories of her relationship with M some three years prior, and of the almost cruel way she ended their relationship by insisting on returning to Korea, even though her obligations in Korea were unclear. The novella never offers the reassurance of a reunion between the narrator and M; the narrator doesn’t even seem interested in finding her old lover. Instead, we have a portrait of an intellectual Korean woman, floating transiently between two cultures, meditating on a haunting former life. This review first appeared on my blog: http://buriedwomenwriters.com/2017/05...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I found this book to be a bit pretentious, mainly because the unnamed narrator is pretentious, and we're stuck in her head. She dissects what she sees as Joachim's lack of intelligence and constantly remarks on his inability to appreciate literature and good music (despite his spending a lot of money on Philharmonic concert tickets for the two of them). Part of the reason why she falls for M so hard is M's refined nature - M loves classical music ferociously, reads literature, writes articles for I found this book to be a bit pretentious, mainly because the unnamed narrator is pretentious, and we're stuck in her head. She dissects what she sees as Joachim's lack of intelligence and constantly remarks on his inability to appreciate literature and good music (despite his spending a lot of money on Philharmonic concert tickets for the two of them). Part of the reason why she falls for M so hard is M's refined nature - M loves classical music ferociously, reads literature, writes articles for scholarly journals. Towards the end, the narrator becomes physically and mentally when she goes to watch a movie with a friend, repulsed by the "masses" she sees digesting hand-picked media and conforming to such a banal event. I didn't dislike it, but even as someone who tends to read slower books (as compared to action or thriller novels that speed along), the slow pace and inescapable narrator bothered me, or failed to allow me to fully connect with the story.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    Enjoyable and meditative, though not quite as thematically cohesive as Bae’s other books I’ve read. The stark contrast between the accounts of Joachim and M highlight the intensity of emotional and pragmatic connection between individuals, and the final third feels like a powerful breaking of a thematic dam. As Recitation was the first book of hers I read, I love the parallelism here regarding the spoken word, but this time focusing mainly on music. I do think that the connection between the mus Enjoyable and meditative, though not quite as thematically cohesive as Bae’s other books I’ve read. The stark contrast between the accounts of Joachim and M highlight the intensity of emotional and pragmatic connection between individuals, and the final third feels like a powerful breaking of a thematic dam. As Recitation was the first book of hers I read, I love the parallelism here regarding the spoken word, but this time focusing mainly on music. I do think that the connection between the musical themes and that of identity/language wasn’t particularly strong, and Recitation is better overall. But considering this was her first book (I think) I have no complaints about what is truly an introspective and provocative masterpiece. Glad I read it fairly slowly too, as it has lots to savor.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    wow, so good. i needed this - addictive, meandering, but somehow breathless prose that does something with time, almost suspends it in ice. i thought of the intensities and rhythms of ferrante and sebald. it is about: translation, language-learning, the politics & power dynamics of thinking, writing, speaking in a language that is not one’s ‘mother tongue’, forms of estrangement; relationships between tutor and student, pedagogical methods, the purpose of learning anything at all, the uses to wh wow, so good. i needed this - addictive, meandering, but somehow breathless prose that does something with time, almost suspends it in ice. i thought of the intensities and rhythms of ferrante and sebald. it is about: translation, language-learning, the politics & power dynamics of thinking, writing, speaking in a language that is not one’s ‘mother tongue’, forms of estrangement; relationships between tutor and student, pedagogical methods, the purpose of learning anything at all, the uses to which language can & should be applied; class & access to cultural production / capital, accessibility, mass media, taste; queerness, desire, shame, self-forgiveness, the carnal vs. the emotional; words vs. music, distances between signs and their referents, the wish for some kind of transcendence.

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