Book review: Silence and sound
Arden Hills, Minn.
Rebecca Snow has written a haunting, beautiful tale filled with sound and silence, darkness and light, sadness and forgiveness, despair and hope. Glassmusic captures the reader from the first words: “Fog misted into Ingrid’s face—where, where to hide?”
Fog continues to wrap itself around young Ingrid; the fog of her father’s blindness and his increasing dependency on Ingrid to help him with his glassmusic; fog that seems to alienate Ingrid from her mother, with Ingrid not quite understanding why; fog that separates Ingrid from her older, more strict and stern sister, Kari; fog that clouds what one sees on the outside of a person and what is hidden on the inside. The question Ingrid and her sister, Alvdis ask, “Would you rather be blind or deaf?” stays with the reader from the start to the finish of the novel.
Very early in the story Ingrid unknowingly witnesses something dark and unpleasant. She carries the burden of secrecy, not truly understanding the implications of all she’s witnessed. Ingrid must decide when she can speak and when she should remain silent.
Although the youngest in the family, Ingrid learns to tune her father’s crystal goblets, filled to just the right pitch to make the sacred glassmusic, played by her blind father. Without the aid of a tuning fork she can hear a perfect A in her head. She takes her mother’s place and becomes her father’s new traveling companion as he preaches at the prayer house and plays his glassmusic, knowing God has called him to bring “a new delight in one’s faith.”
When Ingrid meets Stefan, the son of her father’s one time best friend Emil, and develops a trusting relationship with him, they share a conversation about religion. Emil, now married to a French woman and living in France, has fallen away from his faith and this has also caused a rift in his relationship with Ingrid’s father, Oskar. Stefan tells her that his parents fight about God all the time.
The words not written speak as loudly as the scenes and descriptions so carefully constructed. The spaces created by the absence of description allow the reader to let one’s imagination take flight in this touching story of life in the household of a troubled yet stoic Norwegian family.
Friendship is sacred, yet friendship in Ingrid’s family also carries with it mistrust and disappointment.
The author has also vividly pictured the rural fjordlands of Norway in the 1920s. The reader feels a part of the Norwegian landscape and culture.
When the relationship between Ingrid and her father begins to change, he says to her, “Talking is just like music, you must practice.” Ingrid replies, “You and mama haven’t spoken much this summer.” “We have had our moments, Ingrid,” he says. “You have good ears my child, but not for every sound.”
Ingrid’s awareness of life around her grows clearer as she grows older. Her parents ask her to do something that is unthinkable for her. She needs to make a decision about whether to stay or run away.
Many things go unanswered in this thoughtfully written novel. As the layers of each character unravel, one also sees the questions that come with faith in God and the understanding of acceptance and forgiveness. Long after the last page is turned one continues to ponder the implications of silence and sound and the seen and the unseen.
This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.