The Time of Our Singing

Written by Richard Powers
Review by Tess Allegra

1939, Washington, D.C. Marian Anderson and her extraordinary operatic voice, hailed internationally, were refused Constitutional Hall as a venue by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Claiming it was “fully booked,” the matrons suggested other concert halls used by “Miss Anderson’s people.” Prejudice backfires, however, when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt cancels her DAR membership in protest, and a larger site is chosen for the diva’s music: Lincoln Memorial, an outdoor arena for all peoples to attend. Among them are a German-Jewish immigrant physicist and a young music student from a black Philadelphia family. This historical event is an appropriate event as a catalyst for Powers’ new novel of love and race, and music.

When Delia Daley tells her parents she wants to marry David Strom, a Jewish immigrant, white and an atheist, her Negro father is furious that she would reject acceptable men of her own kind. How can she tell him it’s not about race, it’s about love.

Their noble and naive goal–“we’ve decided to raise our children beyond race”–is put to the test over one of America’s most turbulent periods. The U.S. Civil Rights era of the 1960s is nearly twenty years away, but the three Strom children, raised in a classic education that focused on music, are ill-prepared to fight prejudices from both races because their “beyond race” status does not exist in real society.

Their story is told by Jonah, who worships his brother Joseph’s angel’s voice as his accompanist. His sister Ruth resembles her mother in her fiery determination to balance injustice, but Ruth goes beyond her mother’s naiveté. The author’s knowledge of music, history and the ongoing prejudices in our often contradictory American democracy makes this novel more than a fascinating read. It’s a journey of a lifetime.