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Book Review – The Soloist

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In November of 2008 The Soloist will debut on the big screen. Starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. and directed by Joe Wright (Atonement and Pride & Prejudice) it has the makings of a hit film. Before it was a film, The Soloist was a series of articles written by Steve Lopez for the Los Angeles Times. And between the two it is also a bestselling book. It tells of the unlikely meeting and the even more unlikely friendship between Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers.

Nathaniel Ayers was a prodigy, an African American musician who was accepted to Juliard to play and to study classical bass. During his second year at that school he developed schizophrenia and was quickly unable to function in such a demanding environment. He was forced to drop out. Before long he was broke and homeless, living on the streets. But despite the adversity in his life, his musical talent did not abandon him. Neither did his passion for classical music.

Thirty years later reporter Steve Lopez walked by him as Ayers was standing in Los Angeles’ Skid Row playing a two-string violin. Intrigued by the possibilities of a good story, Ayers wrote about this strange “Violin Man” and was shocked by the reaction these articles received. But as time passed, Ayers became less of a curiosity and more of a friend. Though still inflicted with his illness and exhibiting many of its more pronounced and erratic symptoms, Lopez takes a real interest in his new friend and helps him find permanent lodging, reconnects him to his family and even connects him to the classical music scene in L.A..

The Soloist is a good book and one that is carried along by an intriguing story. While many will find the ending a mite disappointing, it is still worth the journey to get there. The lack of total redemption and recovery at the end of the book, though disappointing, is a mark of the book’s realness. Like so much of life there is a happy ending, to be sure, but not as happy an ending as we may have liked.

(Note: Readers may wish to note that the book includes several occasions where Ayers uses bad language.)

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