By Mitch Albom
Publisher: Harper (November 10, 2015)
Mitch Albom creates his most unforgettable character—Frankie Presto, the greatest guitarist ever to walk the earth—in this magical novel about the power of talent to change our lives.
In Mitch Albom's epic new novel, the voice of Music narrates the tale of its most beloved disciple, Frankie Presto, a Spanish war orphan raised by a blind music teacher. At nine years old, Frankie is sent to America in the bottom of a boat. His only possession is an old guitar and six magical strings.
But Frankie's talent is touched by the gods, and it weaves him through the musical landscape of the twentieth century, from classical to jazz to rock and roll. Along the way, Frankie influences many artists: he translates for Django Reinhardt, advises Little Richard, backs up Elvis Presley, and counsels Hank Williams.
Frankie elevates to a rock star himself, yet his gift becomes his burden, as he realizes that he can actually affect people's futures: his guitar strings turn blue whenever a life is altered. Overwhelmed by life, loss, and this power, he disappears for years, only to reemerge in a spectacular and mysterious farewell.
With its Forrest Gump–like journey through the music world, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is a classic in the making. A lifelong musician himself, Mitch Albom delivers an unforgettable story. "Everyone joins a band in this life," he observes, be it through music, family, friends, or lovers. And those connections change the world.
“Baffa, unmarried and in his forties, went to church regularly and kept a cross on the wall of his bedroom, so the discovery of an abandoned child was for him a divine act, like finding Moses in the reeds. He took the boy in.”
“Baffa was potbellied, with a sagging chest, thick jowls, a drooping forehead, and a downward-bending mustache, so that when he sat, he seemed like a layer of frowns stacked in a chair. But the boy made him happy.”
“The blind man played it passionately, with great care, pausing for emphasis, shaking his head at certain notes as if absorbing their smell.”
“There is a big war going on, boy. We are all going to be speaking English or German soon. Personally, I prefer English. German sounds like someone is scolding you.”
“Man searches for courage in drink, but it is not courage that he finds, it is fear that he loses.”
“Silence enhances music. What you do not play can sweeten what you do. But it is not the same with words. What you do not say can haunt you. El Maestro was an artist (his soul was surely mine), but his instincts were too musical for this life. He left out words as he left out notes.”
Narrated by the vast talent of Music, the craft and brilliance used in the construction of this story was as magical as Frankie’s fabled guitar strings. This was my maiden voyage in actually reading a Mitch Albom book, although I have viewed movies based on previous works. I am awestruck and grasping for the words to describe the quality and skill of his writing. The words poignant and moving seem trite and banal in what I am feeling highly inadequate in my attempts to convey and express. The fact that I have not read his work before now is a complete travesty, as Mr. Albom is obviously a master wordsmith whose writing is immensely creative and has great depth. The story was well crafted and taps emotion at all levels while keeping it close to the surface at all times. My cold heart was well squeezed and an odd and unaccustomed wetness filled my eyes more than once.
I was quite taken with the idea of Talents (such as Music, Math, or Reason) being bestowed and infused in humans at birth, while coming to them as bright colors that the infants grab and take in their hands – genius! And as the story was narrated by Music, I found it amusingly clever that the chapters were introduced by the tempo (such as 4/4 time) and movement of the story (i.e. allegro). I was also enthused by the use of current day musical celebrities such as Tony Bennett being interviewed about Frankie - in what sounded to me as their own voices. The history of his associations with various musicians (Elvis, Little Richard, Hank Williams, Duke Ellington, Lyle Lovett) seemed so realistic and well researched that in the midst of reading, I was compelled to put down my kindle to recheck that I was actually reading fiction and that Frankie Presto had not in fact been a living breathing performer.
The story was intriguing and mysterious, with sprinkles of clever humor, while also extremely insightful, captivating, and at times tragic and heartbreaking. To quote Mr. Albom’s own words used to describe Frankie’s playing, “It broke your heart, it was so sad and beautiful.” The characters were richly described and fully fleshed out, and I adored the philosophical life lessons his teacher (El Maestro) passed on to him about music that aptly applied to life, as well as the staccato cadence of their dialogues. All manner of tricks were expertly woven into the story that crossed continents, and decades – such as the hairless dog, gypsies, war, a shadowy figure, timely and untimely coincidences - and I was enthralled by it all. 5 stars is just not enough.