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December 10, 2013

Book Notes - Leslie Cannold "The Book of Rachael"

The Book of Rachael

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Leslie Cannold's The Book of Rachael is a thought-provoking work of historical fiction, a debut novel that imagines the life of the sister of Jesus.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Cannold offers a thought-provoking, heartfelt, and tragic but redemptive tale about the difficulties of discovering and defining one's identity in a world that seeks unendingly to take that decision away."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Leslie Cannold's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, The Book of Rachael:

What a great idea! I loved concocting this play list, and even more so when my intuitive interpretation of the project – to come up with a songlist that gave expression to the emotional tenor of key scenes in The Book of Rachael – was a bit different to what other writers participating in the Largehearted Boy Playlist project have done.

The Book of Rachael imagines the life of Jesus's sister: a woman who may or may not have existed and whose name and life story has been forever lost to history. My quest in writing the book was to give an answer to the question, "what kind of world records all of what's known about a famous man's brothers, yet fails to record even the names of his sisters?" In answering the question I allow the mythical sisters of Joshua of Nazareth - Rachael and her older sister Shona - to roam through the historicized landscape of the gospels, a terrain that reveals much about the social, religious and political struggles of the Jewish people. Rachael is a precocious and determined child who, much like the imaginary sister of Shakespeare postulated by Virginia Woolf, is as talented and as her older brother but because of the values the time and into which she was born, must struggle for recognition, and a place in history.

Rachael Helps Birth a Passover Lamb
"Pushover" – Lisa Miller

Pushover is all about the search for recognition and belonging, and what's required to obtain it. Recognition and acceptance are important themes in The Book of Rachael. The insight in the song – about the need to avoid being a pushover and to walk away from toxic relationships – is key to how the talented and ambitious Rachael resolves her quest to gain her mother Miriame's recognition and love.

Shona's Womanhood Ceremony
"Nadia" – Nitin Sawhey

Anita Diamante's The Red Tent was one of the literary inspirations for The Book of Rachael. While Diamante's take on the lives of women in biblical times has a more "separate but equal" flavour than my novel, Shona's womanhood ceremony is a Diamante moment. In it, I imagine a more sacred and special ritual than what is on offer to contemporary girls to mark their transition to womanhood.

Nadia seems the perfect backing track to this and many of the early events in The Book of Rachael. The song has been covered many times, but the juxtaposition of ancient melodies and female vocal tones in this version, deliciously combined with a modern backbeat, is my favourite. It is also the most appropriate, as this ancient and modern musical combination models the literary combination I'm trying to offer readers in The Book of Rachael: a timeless story of the human striving for belonging and recognition set in a particular place and time – 2000 years ago in the middle-east, at a time of crisis for a colonized people.

Shona's Tragedy & Judgment
"Unravel" - Bjork

Bjork is a musical genius whose compositions make you think and feel in equal and intense parts. What happens to Shona is the inciting incident to Rachael's journey and Bjork seems the only sensible backing choice to the conflict and tragedy it sets up for both young women.

Entering Jerusalem
"The Feeling Begins" – Peter Gabriel

Readers tell me they can clearly see many of the scenes in The Book of Rachael play out in their heads. In particular, they see the sacred pilgrimages the men of Galilee were required to make three times a year to Jerusalem. If songs can be middle-eastern in flavor and panoramic in feel, this is one.

Judah and Rachael in the Sukkoh Tent
"Closer – Kings of Leon"

The romance between Rachael and Judah of Iscarriot is an important part of Rachael's journey. It certainly has moved readers. Not just because the sex between them is good, but because the relationship enables the fullness of Judah's complex character to be revealed in a way far more satisfying than is attempted in the 30 pieces of silver explanation for the betrayal offered in some of the gospels.

Closer is one of the most moving songs ever written. If you haven't seen Kings of Leon play it live chase it up on YouTube. It is the only song I can imagine backing the first time Rachael and Judah engage in the tender, savage coupling of two people in love.

Rachael, Joshua & Judah Storm the Temple
"Thoughts of a Dying Atheist" - Muse

Energy, chaos, passion – this track has all that, as does this key turning point in the novel.

Rachael Learns of Judah's Betrayal
"Time" – Hans Zimmer

My musician friend loves this piece, the developing imperfection of the C major 7th chord at its centre matches the heartbreaking flaw in Judah's beautiful nature.

Judah and Rachael Mourn & Fight
This is the moment when it all ends: Joshua and Judah's friendship, Rachael and Joshua's sibling relationship and the deep & sensuous love between Rachael and Judah. This song says "this is the end" in the language of music as clearly as it is had lyrics that repeated just this phrase.

Rachael Comes to Terms with What Was and Will Be in Antioch
"Sigur 3 (untitled)" – Sigur Ros

The composition of this song speaks volumes about recovery from tragedy and the courage and ingenuity it takes to be born again. Rachael is re-born in the novel's epilogue, not just because she survives and finds a place for some of her talents to flourish, but through our efforts in reading her story and - by so doing – rescuing her from the dustbin of history.

Leslie Cannold and The Book of Rachael links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Publishers Weekly review
Readings review
Sydney Morning Herald review

Fancy Goods interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists
2013 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists