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IN BRIEF

Fiction

January 16, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE SOLOIST by Mark Salzman. (Random House: 21; 272 pp.) Reinhart Sundheimer was a child prodigy, a cellist who, at age 18, developed a hearing problem that affected his sense of pitch and ruined his career. From this point on, he practiced obsessively and isolated himself from intimate relationships. By the time we meet him at age 36, teaching music at a university in Los Angeles, he is one of those doughnut characters whose life has no center. He functions, and the details are all in place, but what's missing is what makes him interesting. 'Round about the same time life throws smug Reinhart two curve balls: he is called to jury duty on the case of a young man accused of murdering a Buddhist monk; and the mother of a 6-year-old Korean boy with a genius for the cello but not much else going for him in the way of personal charm insists that Reinhart give her son lessons. The boy's talent is so startling that Reinhart cannot refuse. Now the novel weaves gracefully between the trial, childhood memories, the pursuit of music and what it means to teach. The man sitting passively in the courtroom while he is tried for murdering the Buddha is a walking mirror for the obsessive cellist, as is the lonely little Korean boy. Yet in this book of revelations, Reinhart's missing piece falls very calmly into place. He gets a cat, he plays the cello naked, he stops practicing, he allows music to give him pleasure. Salzman is a very pure, straightforward writer, with a poet's use of memory and metaphor.

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