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La's Orchestra Saves The World Paperback – 2 Jul 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; Reprint edition (2 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349122059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349122052
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.7 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 198,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world's most prolific and most popular authors. His career has been a varied one: for many years he was a professor of Medical Law and worked in universities in the United Kingdom and abroad. Then, after the publication of his highly successful 'No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' series, which has sold over twenty million copies, he devoted his time to the writing of fiction and has seen his various series of books translated into over forty-six languages and become bestsellers through the world. These include the Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in The Scotsman, the Isabel Dalhousie novels, the Von Igelfeld series, and the Corduroy Mansions series, novels which started life as a delightful (but challenging to write) cross-media serial, written on the website of the Telegraph Media Group. This series won two major cross-media awards - Association of Online Publishers Digital Publishing Award 2009 for a Cross Media Project and the New Media Age award.

In addition to these series, Alexander writes stand-alone books. 2014 sees publication of three new novels which fall into this area: 'The Forever Girl'; 'Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party'; and 'Emma' - a reworking of the classic Jane Austen novel. This year there will also be a stunning book on Edinburgh, 'A Work of Beauty: Alexander McCall Smith's Edinburgh'. Earlier stand alone novels include 'La's Orchestra Saves the World' and 'Trains and Lovers: A Hearts Journey'.

Alexander is also the author of collections of short stories, academic works, and over thirty books for children. He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the British Book Awards Author of the Year Award in 2004 and a CBE for service to literature in 2007. He holds honorary doctorates from nine universities in Europe and North America. In March of 2011 he received an award from the President of Botswana for his services through literature to that country.
Alexander McCall Smith lives in Edinburgh. He is married to a doctor and has two daughters.

Product Description


** 'The evocation of war-torn England, with its palpable mood of defiance, determination and survival, is beautifully caught (SCOTSMAN)

** 'Alexander McCall Smith writes about the enduring, patient qualities of love . . . the novel pays heed to our natural yearning for a story to chew on (THE TIMES)

** 'A gentle and uplifting read (DAILY MAIL Books of the Year)

** 'Beautifully precise and psychologically acute (INDEPENDENT)

Book Description

** 'The evocation of war-torn England, with its palpable mood of defiance, determination and survival, is beautifully caught' SCOTSMAN

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Alun Williams VINE VOICE on 26 Nov 2008
Format: Hardcover
Finding a new Alexander McCall Smith book in my local book shop is always a pleasure. He is almost the only current writer whose books I will buy in hardback without any misgiving and without knowing anything about the book first. But, lately, he seems to be getting ever more prolific.

Mostly set in my favourite county, Suffolk, with most of the action (such as it is) during the World War II, this is the kind of book that would make an excellent short TV period drama series (or maybe just a single long drama). It's nice to have a one off novel from this writer for a change, as Precious Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie will soon need a bookshelf all to themselves in my house. I enjoyed the story this book tells, but like the other reviewer I found the ending somewhat underdone and unsatisfactory. None of the characters in this book really stand out: the charm definitely lies more in the evocation of a lost time and way of life. This is not really vivid enough to make the book unmissable, but overall I'm happy enough to have this book and will probably enjoy reading it again some time.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Julia Flyte TOP 100 REVIEWER on 17 Nov 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a sweetly old fashioned story set in Suffolk during the Second World War. The heroine, La (it's short for Lavender), moves to the country after her marriage ends. Initially she's very lonely, but gradually she builds relationships and then she has the idea of forming an orchestra for members of the nearby air base as well as for the local villagers. At the same time, the book is about her relationship with a Polish worker (Feliks), for whom she has an unrequited love while also harbouring doubts about his background.

The book starts slowly, spending a lot of time on La's back story. The orchestra is only formed at the half way mark. I found the central part (during the war) very involving, but then it slows right down again after the war ends. McCall Smith does a good job of building suspense about Feliks, but then he lets it dissipate so that when we do eventually find out the truth, we're past caring. There is also one chapter towards the end when the narrative switches to La's point of view and which pre-empts any tension about what might happen when she meets up with her Pole in the next chapter. I felt that there should have been a better way to integrate La's thoughts into the book.

La is a curiously bland and passive character - neither as engaging nor as pro-active as Precious Ramotswe or Isabel Dalhousie. In fact, none of the characters ever came alive for me, although I did really enjoy the way that it captured life in the English countryside at that time. It's an enjoyable story, but it needed to be tightened and it badly needed a better structure. It pains me to be critical because I do love Alexander McCall Smith's writing, but this one felt like it was rushed out for Christmas rather than going back for another re-write.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Damaskcat HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 28 Dec 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
La - short for Lavender - retreats to rural Suffolk after a failed marriage. It is shortly before the outbreak of World War II. She settles into rural life and domesticity until she feels she needs to make some sort of contribution to the war effort even though she has enough money not to need to work after the death of her husband. She agrees to work without pay for a local farmer - the cantankerous Henry - looking after his hens. Then she meets Feliks - a Polish pilot who is grounded because he lost the sight in one eye during a mission - who also goes to work for Henry. As a result of talking to Feliks La hits upon the idea of starting an orchestra made up of local people and members of the RAF from a nearby base. It is this orchestra which keeps the community going. How La's relationships develop and what happens to the orchestra makes for an interesting plot. It is a gentle moral story with Alexander McCall Smith's customary light touch. I enjoyed it even though it is not in quite the same class as 44 Scotland Street or the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mr. D. L. Rees TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 14 July 2010
Format: Hardcover
A curious one, this. The first half of the novel greatly appeals, it easy to identify with La and to savour the evocative descriptions of England at war. La, her life in disarray after tragedy, tries to settle in an old Suffolk farmhouse. She tends chickens on a neighbouring farm and turns her garden over to vegetables. Gradually she makes friends with a pilot named Tim and a Pole named Feliks. The pace is leisurely, the characters beguiling.

Then everything goes askew. Note the title. Yes, La starts up an orchestra to help raise morale. Surely the orchestra from this point should take centre stage (especially as the author has so much experience of being in one)? Instead, for the most part, it remains on the periphery. More focus is needed on the people in it and its effect on the community. Sadly, everything is further thrown off balance by a creaking subplot involving "stolen" money - the novel's conclusion unsatisfyingly fragmented and seeming rushed. I never worked out how the orchestra saved the world but felt featuring it more prominently would have saved the book.

Contrast the end with that wonderfully intriguing opening chapter! I could not help wishing the novel had as its grand climax the concert to celebrate the end of war, a postscript then taking us back to those two brothers of the start: they still have something of worth to contribute. Everything would have thus been more integrated.

Thanks to Alexander McCall Smith's books I have relished visits to Scotland and Botswana and enjoyed meeting the people he describes. For various reasons, this novel lacked similar impact.
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