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The Game of Opposites: A Novelby Norman Lebrecht
Synopses & Reviews
Part One: Flight
At four in the morning, an hour before the cement mixer is due, Paul creeps downstairs in woollen socks and pulls on his trousers in the wood-panelled tavern bar, the air heavy with the past night's conviviality. Fumbling past the silent coffee machine, a stair light winking off its curved steel wall, he brews himself a small black pot on the old crusted hob and sips the scalding bitterness through a rock-hard almond biscuit, the last of the batch that Alice baked for Easter. Crossing the room once more, he caresses the coffeemaker with trailing fingertips.
The coffeemaker was Paul's dearest possession, his defining object. He had picked it up on the lack and trundled it for miles on the back of a jeep before unwrapping it in front of a twitter of village lives, his masculine perversity gratified by their shrieks of dismay. He had hoped the contraption would cause alarm, and it satisfied his wishes to the full. To the huddle of black bonnets around the bar, Paul's machine was a pulsing threat, a disruption to the natural order. There was no telling the harm it might do. A man in need of strong coffee after a hard night's lambing in the fields would be lured away from hearth and hob by this sibilant hussy. One sip, and a husband was lost. The ladies had read of such things in picture magazines and were not about to permit them in the village. Take it away, landlord, shrilled the butcher's wife, before I ask Father Hitzinger to denounce it this very Sunday.
It cost Paul three rounds of free tastings to convince the bonnets that his novelty was innocuous, its dainty servings so different from their kitchen dispensations as to pose no challenge to their domain. A real man, he explained, would always require a large dose of the handmade. His tiny shots of steam-pressed coffee were meant for visitors, for city people jaded by luxury and condemned to a vapid quest for extreme sensation, effete couples who came to the inn for cynically themed country weekends. This machine was strictly for what Paul called passing trade.
The ladies, receptive to slick assurances, flattered by his attention, and emboldened by the fierce extract that surged through their child-worn frames, turned bold and mildly flirtatious, as people do when free drinks are being served. It is a fine beverage, landlord, declared the market carrot seller with the comically jutting bosom. It is hot and aromatic and rasping to the tongue, but it is not what we around here call coffee, oh no. Coffee is what we grind by hand, with the grime of our fingernails and a fleck of sweat from the brow. When you want real coffee, landlord, boiled through and through and served in a man-sized mug, just knock at my door and I will show you proper coffee.
And if her gimpy old man is out in the fields, cackled a wrinkled head scarf at the fringe of the throng, our Regina will show you plenty else besides.
Shut your cesspit, Elsa, snapped the carrot woman. The landlord is a Christian gentleman. He does not need to hear such filth. I apologise for the feeble old lady,
The author of the international bestseller The Maestro Myth, tells the story of Paul Miller, a work-camp escapee, who marries the woman who rescues him and is later haunted by the memories of his time imprisoned.
In an unnamed country at the end of a world war, Paul Miller escapes from a labor camp, collapsing after a few hundred feet. Taken in by a young woman he learns to love, Paul decides to stay where he is, and, asthe war ends, he marries, starts a family, and helps to rebuild the village. But Paul is inescapably haunted by his life before the war, by his time in the camp, and by the fact that the people who are now his friendsignored for years the horrors in their midst. So when the camp's commander suddenly returns to the village, Paul finds himself forced to choose between vengeance and forgiveness. The Game of Oppositesis a universal tale of good and evil, and a stunning evocation of the capability for both within us all.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
NORMAN LEBRECHT is the author of eleven books about music, including the international bestsellers The Maestro Myth and Who Killed Classical Music? He is assistant editor of the London Evening Standard, a cultural commentator on Bloomberg.com, and presenter of Lebrecht.live on BBC Radio 3 in Great Britain. He lives in London.
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