Read La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith Online

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La's Orchestra Saves the World is another delightful story celebrating friendship and the healing power of music, told with the warmth and charm we've come to love from this favourite storyteller.It's 1939 and the war in Europe casts a long, all-encompassing shadow. In a sleepy town in Suffolk, La, the generous and determined widow, forms an amateur orchestra to entertainLa's Orchestra Saves the World is another delightful story celebrating friendship and the healing power of music, told with the warmth and charm we've come to love from this favourite storyteller.It's 1939 and the war in Europe casts a long, all-encompassing shadow. In a sleepy town in Suffolk, La, the generous and determined widow, forms an amateur orchestra to entertain the locals and soothe her own broken heart. She recruits Feliks, a refugee from Poland, to play the flute, and a touching friendship emerges. When the war is over and the orchestra disbands, La is left pondering her next move. What role can she play in her community now that the war is over? And can she let herself love again?...

Title : La's Orchestra Saves the World
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780307378385
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 294 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

La's Orchestra Saves the World Reviews

  • ruzmarì
    2019-03-06 07:45

    This is a sweet novel, and a frustrating one. McCall Smith (of the Ladies Detective Agency fame) here offers a stand-alone volume about the cultural act of healing from war, the redemptive power of music, and the trials of patient love. The La of the title (short for Lavender) is plucky, respectful and brave - also independently wealthy after the death of her philandering husband, and as it happens displaced from London. She takes up farm work in a rural community to help with England's WWII efforts, and soon meets a quirky and diverse cast of characters, whom she brings together in a community orchestra that gathers in a time outside of war-time, rehearses, and performs a victory concert when Germany surrenders. Again thanks to her deceased philanderer, La has the capacity of material generosity, and she gives to her adopted community in very real ways. This is, so far, all standard McCall Smith stuff - perhaps a little more grounded in history than the Ladies Detective series.Frustrating in the novel is its tendency to gloss over both relationship details and, sadly and ironically, details of the music that purportedly saves the world. La conducts and the orchestra swells and soars, but there is no actual music in the writing about music. Hardly even any details about the composers and works the orchestra rehearses and performs ! And granted, this may seem a fairly specific (ie a musician's) quibble with an otherwise enjoyable novel, but I think it stands as a symptom of something larger in the novel as a whole, namely that tendency toward glossiness without depth, as if the novel, written in haste, had to satisfy a certain number of feel-good requirements that left little time or room for depth of detail. (Another irony about the novel is that it actually does contain a fair amount of details - about La's wartime job working with chickens. Just not about the title subject.)It's worth a read if you've got a spare few hours, and it is just feel-good-y enough to leave a good taste in the mouth at the end. Still, since I dearly love Mma Ramotswe from McCall Smith's famous series, I was disappointed to find so much surface and so little genuine feeling in this novel, especially since it promised so much to this orchestra conductor's daughter.

  • Edward
    2019-03-14 03:34

    Apparently, readers familiar with the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series are somewhat disappointed by this book. Not having read the series, I wasn't disappointed at all and was even delighted. That might seem odd considering the story takes place in England in the years leading up to and through WWII. Lavender is a rather ordinary heroine. She maintains her poise and perseveres despite setbacks and unexpected events. I think that's the whole point. She embodies her country's spirit as she makes her small contribution to the Women's Land Army by planting a garden at her country home and helping a local farmer for several hours every day. The little orchestra of townspeople and local servicemen she organizes is not so good but great for morale.To me, the strongest characters in the book are Tim, the energetic RAF officer who inspires La to create the orchestra, and Feliks, the injured Polish pilot that Tim finds work for. Their stories, along with the lesser ones, are the world in action around La. She works and does her duty but being a woman of her time and age (she's too old to enlist to study nursing) her options are limited. Her stoic determination and her stolid resilience over the years, endeared her to me. In fact, all the characters are so well written and believable they are likable. The whole book is well written. The style is easily understandable making for a quick read and a clear conclusion.

  • Laura
    2019-03-18 02:45

    Alexander McCall Smith has a penchant for “cute” titles, some quite funny(At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances). However, something about a character named La, short for Lavender, struck me as too twee even for my low standards. I should have followed my instinct and skipped this, but I hoped for shades of Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society, or maybe “Paradise Road,” or at the very least some insight into the Women’s Land Army.In brief, the story is about a woman who moves to a farm to wait out World War II and starts an orchestra that meets once a month or so. The book’s failing can be summarized as briefly: None of the plotlines, let alone the themes, is developed. There’s a Polish refugee who might not actually be Polish (spies? moral dilemmas? star-crossed lovers?!?) but nothing thrilling happens. There’s La’s farm work that breezes past chickens and planting potatoes for about five paragraphs total. Then there’s some thief-in-the-neighborhood intrigue that I can’t remember the resolution to because it was dull and underdeveloped, and finally there is the orchestra, the one that “saves the world,” which practices only a few times and has two performances at which nothing happens. Books that can’t help but be dull are one thing; who would expect drama from Bird Watching for Beginners or How to Be Your Own Accountant? But dull books that should be intriguing are the worst kind of bait-and-switch. This could have been about conflicts of personal and national loyalties, the transcending power of music, and ordinary people coping with extraordinary circumstances. The big mystery is how you could take these elements and turn out a tedious story. It also — worse still — is philosophically unmoored. For example, La wails about the destruction of war, but then thinks, “Hmm, those Nazis are so terrible that they’re actually evil! We must stop evil.” Later she laments, “Why would we develop more weapons? Who would ever go to war again? Let’s revive the old orchestra and have a concert for peace!” Imagine this oversimplification stretched out for three hundred pages.

  • Book Concierge
    2019-03-23 23:30

    Audiobook performed by Emily Gray.As World War II breaks out, Lavender Stone leaves London for a cottage in Suffolk. La (as she is known to her friends) is fleeing more than the German bombings; her husband has run off to France, and she is struggling to make sense of their marriage. The peace and solitude of the small town suit La, and she begins to make friends. Believing in the healing power of music, she forms an amateur orchestra, drawing on the musical skills of villagers and soldiers at the local RAF base. Among the musicians is a reserved, proper Pole – Feliks – who becomes a friend, and kindles feelings La thought she had put aside. Alexander McCall Smith has a gentle way of introducing the reader to his characters. La and the other residents of the town go about their business, observing the goings on in the village and the greater world, and trying to live the best lives they can in the circumstances. They worry, rejoice, are fearful, find love, relish friendships, enjoy simple pleasures and take action when they can. The fact that La lost her mother at a young age definitely affected how she approached life and love. I was so happy that there were people in her life who genuinely cared about her, and about whom she could care. I totally understood how she came to her decisions, and felt her anguish over having to make some of them. I applauded her resilience and her ability to maintain her faith in the basic goodness of others. Her scope of influence may have been small, but she was a treasure to those within that circle. Emily Gray was perfect performing the audio book. Her measured tone and steady pace were ideally suited to this gentle story. I do not normally care for sound effects or embellishments in audio books, but I really would have liked to have a little orchestral accompaniment in this one. Still, the lack of a musical score did not detract from the experience or Gray’s narration.

  • Gill
    2019-03-06 23:41

    I got this book on a whim, because my sister is Lala (her nickname for herself) and she plays in an orchestra, so I thought I might give it to her. I've enjoyed the Isobel Dalhousie books, the Prof. Igelfeld trilogy and love Mma Ramotswe above all. I've also read many of his short stories and children's books. After I finished it (in one and a half days, and reading far too late into the night) I read the reviews and was surprised by them. This book impressed me more than any other AMS book I have read. His beautiful prose descriptions that twinkle here and there in other books are scattered liberally in this one. It is not a trite love story as one might expect, and it reminded me in tone strangely of a very different book "A means of grace" by Edith Pargetter, who also wrote the famous Cadfael series about a mediaeval monk/detective, and many about a modern detective too. "A means of grace" stood out from her work as a singular book about emotions and betrayal in a cold war situation. This book starts just before the onset of WWII and also deals with things which have a sombre resonance and deep, often unexpressed emotion. I must have read a different book from the people who found it dull or felt it was in the wrong order! To me it was the perfect embodiment of the messages and feelings it was expressing, and a book that I found profoundly moving.I live in deep, quiet countryside myself and I know those farming families and village policemen, the amateur musicians and the pleasure in small, undramatic moments. I regard this as the pinnacle of Alexander McCall Smith's writing, but if you want a fast, racy, dramatic novel then it is not for you.

  • Lydia Presley
    2019-03-22 04:35

    It's no secret that I love Alexander McCall Smith. I think his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series is pretty darn near close to perfection.In La's Orchestra Saves the World he writes with the same simple, pure style that he does in his other books and it works so well. I always feel as if life slows down and I can, figuratively speaking, smell the roses when I read one of his novels. I love the feeling of peace and calm I get and how he always finds the gentleness and kindness in people, no matter their nationality or circumstances.Despite living in heart-breaking times and having a life that isn't filled with perfect scenarios, Lavender (La) crafts a corner out of her small world in Suffolk and lives through the horror of WWII doing what she can to help. I found it fascinating that, in reading through the book, the little things she was doing seemed .. somewhat small and inconsequential to me, the reader. That's not to say I didn't appreciate them, they were just things that seemed normal and things I would hope I would have done if I had lived during that time period. After putting the book down and thinking about it for a bit though, those small, seemingly inconsequential things start to grow and I started to realize how much the story of La meant. I always think that my small actions won't make that much of a difference and sometimes get discouraged - but every little thing does help. And I think that's what this story is all about.Over the last several months I've read quite a few WWII books dealing with the Polish and I know this ranks up there as one I'll read again. I'd recommend this book to anyone, just as I have with Smith's other books. It doesn't take long to read and it's worth every minute invested.

  • Carol
    2019-03-01 01:35

    I am a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s books and usually love his simple story structure that allows for profound commentary on everyday life. I felt that this particular book fell short of the mark. The book is set at the outbreak of World War II in Great Britain. LA, an abbreviation for Lavender, is living in the country recovering from the betrayal of her philandering husband and his subsequent accidental death. She is the type of person who has a tendency to let life pass her by, being more of an observer than an active participant in life. LA intends to return to London but once the war starts, she decides to stay in the country and try to work for the war effort in whatever little way she can. She is rebuffed when she tries to become a nurse and let’s that setback limit her active participation in the war effort. She joins the Women’s Land Army and helps a disabled farmer take care of his chickens. This is really the full extent of her involvement in the war. She chooses something small and safe as her contribution. She becomes involved with helping an Army major organize a small orchestra consisting of villagers and airmen from a local base that meets once per month to play music. The main story line centers around the theme that by participating in this small cultural ritual, those involved can maintain a sense of normalcy amidst the horrors of war. Unfortunately, we never really connect with the orchestra’s members nor do we get a sense of LA working especially hard to keep this orchestra going. Without a personal sense of the importance of the orchestra or a sense that LA sacrificed or stretched her personal limits to keep the orchestra going, the book falls flat. What could have been special ends up being a sweet, short read.

  • salinthebay
    2019-03-03 00:43

    One Goodreads crit wrote," (AMS)Reads kind of like a Virginia Woolf novel, except that there is a hopefulness and the characters are less fatally fragile." Right on! His female character, La, short for Lavender, hence the garden theme, is kind, tough and introspective. La is not unlike his other female characters in the No 1 Ladies' Detective series, and The Isabel Dalhousie series, my personal favorite. His understanding of the famale psyche ceases to amaze me...pehaps his work in bioethics has helped develop his feminine side. What intrigues me about AMS is his use of symbolism and metaphor in all his novels. In La's Orchestra, he chooses instruments to suit his characters. Very funny! Likewise in La's garden, he chooses flora to suit the condition of WWII. One interesting side note is his anti-German and Russian theme, very much evident at the end of the novel. His take on Yalta says it all. Perhaps his "red fox" anthropromorphic character in all is novels represent the Hun!

  • Ian Laird
    2019-03-20 04:33

    I am constantly struck by the quality and sincerity of Goodreads reviews, while accommodating different views and reactions.Because of this variety I am prompted to pen my own brief thoughts a long time after reading this book. My afterimage of the tale is poignancy for a rural England of simpler values at a time of genuine peril. The quality in the book I most admire, while acknowledging some of the faults identified by others (La’s absence of earthly worries, plot points left underdeveloped, I also wondered about a business importing wine into Britain before World War Two, but I accept that this must be so) is the very quality which I think is very hard to capture, that of inchoate or vague feelings which are just that, which build an atmosphere of uncertainty. It is as if the world is unstable. Uncertainty during wartime is a given, and that these uncertainties should be largely unresolved reflects what reality is like in contrast to a more typical fictional narrative.Things happen in wartime, which do not happen in peacetime: Guy Gibson was a wing commander at 26, in charge of the dam busters raid; in Italy, Eric Newby met fellow Englishmen from social classes his could not possibly mix with in peacetime Love and War in the Apennines, and pilots and sailors and soldiers from lots of other nations found themselves in Britain, and displaced people like Feliks. Reality gets distorted: look at Michael Frayn’s semi-autobiographical wartime story Spies.La tries to make sense of this: for her the orchestra and practical rural farming represents a purpose and an opportunity to make a difference, in the uncertain and worrying world in which she finds herself. I agree with the comments about the music, even though talking and writing about music is really hard (film is much easier because you can chatter about what we see, as opposed to what we hear). After I finished La’s Orchestra I gave it to my mum to read: during her entire secondary education the country was at war.

  • Sheila
    2019-03-11 02:49

    London, Cambridge and Suffolk all play their part in this historical novel by Alexander McCall Smith. Set in the time around World War II, it builds a convincing picture of war-torn Britain where human kindness wars with the darkness of suspicion and fear. Real characters fill the village streets, farm the fields, and feed the airmen stationed nearby. But if foreigners are dropping bombs, can a Polish pilot with a German accent really be worthy of trust?Betrayed by her husband, Lavender—called La—has settled into the routine of a quiet life, comfortable enough, rich enough and insulated enough from what goes on around her. But the war intrudes and this new betrayal leads her to live again, signing on to volunteer, meeting strangers, and even, finally, starting an orchestra. Like the war, her orchestra won’t last long—just a temporary diversion she thinks. And, like the war, it lasts till the fighting’s done.Lawns turn to potato plots, neighbors to friends, and the Polish airman awakens La’s heart with his gentle formality. But when suspicions of wrong-doing grow, will honest truth turn into betrayal of love?La’s Orchestra Saves the World is a beautifully evocative novel of Britain at war, and of hearts warring with themselves. I can vouch for the truth of the countryside drawn by the author. My Mum can vouch for the honest depiction of the people. And readers will quickly be drawn into La’s world with its love and complications, delighting in her music and looking forward to her redemption.Disclosure: I borrowed this book from a generous friend.

  • Karin
    2019-03-22 06:40

    La (Lavender) goes to Oxford with no intention of being married before her late 20s, but ends up romanced, in love, married and then abandoned by her husband. Her inlaws, displeased with their son’s actions, kind and honest people, give her their summer cottage as a home and promise to take care of her after the divorce. She is living there when World War II breaks out. At that time she volunteers to help, and so ends up with two jobs. The official one is to help an arthritic farmer take care of his chickens and collect the eggs. The second one is to organize and conduct an orchestra which can only rehearse once per month.This is a stand-alone, historical fiction novel by McCall Smith, and one I tend to like better than I think I will during parts of it where I might not be happy with what he’s doing with La’s life or something else. There is something endearing about La and the other characters in this novel, which, although the bulk of it is during WW II, spans a good thirty years or so. I think that one of the reviews on the back or the novel that has a sentence that fits, “A fresh and unforgettable story about the power of human kindness.” From the Booklist starred review, and, as the reviewer from The Scotsman wrote, “An excellent re-creation of a woman of her time.”I recommend this novel.

  • Michele
    2019-03-08 00:24

    Decided to try something besides Ladies #1. I enjoyed the style and writing of this book very much. It has a feel of Potato Peel Society but not quite the happy ending you want or expect. I loved how you got an idea of what is like for people before the war started. I thought it gave some interesting history.pg55 War is madness let loose. on page 59 She plants a garden for the future, not knowing what it hold, and and says, "I shall not starve. Whatever happens in the world, I shall not starve here in this quiet corner of England. An enjoyable quiet read. No where near as good as Potato Peel Society but a distant second. Not that it isn't worth reading. I think it is worth it. I loved that she tried to help out in her own way, even if it was chickens and a garden she tried to do her part and many others were blessed for it. I loved how music and the orchestra kept them going in hard times. Was she a patriot? I think so, but I did wonder if it was necessary to turn Dab in. Could they not have discussed it previous?

  • Gary
    2019-03-12 07:25

    Alexander McCall Smith is best known as a serial novelist. This particular novel is a departure from that, a "one off" work that tells the story of Lavendar Stone, who decides at the beginning of World War II to form a local orchestra in Suffolk, particulary just to show Hitler that he can't stamp out all of the beauty in the world. The novel also follows her life into the Cold War, where she brings the orchestra together for one last performance: "Absurdly, irrationally, she believed that music could make a difference to the temper of the world. She did not investigate this belief, test it to see whether it made sense; she simply believed it, and so she chose music that expressed order and healing; Bach for order; Mozart for healing. This was the antithesis of the anger and fear that could unleash the missiles; this was music showing the face of love and forgiveness."

  • Ruth Bonetti
    2019-02-25 04:27

    This was fun, but a little disappointing; perhaps the characters were not sufficiently delineated for my taste. But what a catchy title.

  • Barış
    2019-03-12 06:24

    Easy 2 stars, hard 3 stars.First of all, if you're expecting a story about how a woman inspired her neighbours through the power of music during the harsh WWII environment of England, I'm afraid you're in for a surprise; because that's not what happens. In fact the name of the book could have easily been something else since the orchestra was introduced in the second half and was not much more than an underused plot device. This book is neither about about the love La has for music and how she uses this potential, nor about her love life and romantic interest in a Polish refugee. I quite enjoyed the first half of the book where none of these two plot devices were used. There were very good inner monolog passages, I especially liked the way La's journey ended up in Suffolk, and how the pre-WWII context had been handled by the author. And I daresay this book should have been about that La. The love story and the orchestra bit are mere subplots that add nothing to the wholesomeness of the plot and mess the already built up, subtle backbone of plot up. If these plot devices were to be explored, the subject matter, with the same mechanisms that work very well in the first half, could have cover almost another 200 pages. Then the first 125 pages or so would have been a great intro and not the rather more enjoyable half of the book. The last half feels rushed. The structure that author chose to tell the story is out of balance. Story opens up with different characters and some time after La's death. This start up indicates that the final chapter tidy up the story with those characters in that time, which is not the case at all. I must say, I did not want that to happen because I was not interested in their storyline, their place in and outcome from La's story. Yet it also frustrates me that that's not what happened. Also near the end of the book, it switches from 3rd person pov to 1st person unexpectedly for no apparent reason at all. This lasts for only one chapter, then the story continues on with 3rd person pov. This sudden and rather unnecessary change alienated me from the natural flow of the story. Honestly, it feels like a bumpy ride. I purchased the book in a second hand bookshop simply because of the setting, expecting (but not interested in) a mushy, cliche heart-warming plot. I'm relieved that what I expected hadn't occurred. I would be more interested if the first half of the book widened throughout the whole of it. Nevertheless it has some elements that provide entertainment, thoughtfulness, reflections on war generally, and is an easy summer read. I would recommend it but also advise future readers to be cautious on what to expect from it, for it may not be exactly what one was looking for to read.

  • Carolyn
    2019-02-28 06:25

    La’s Orchestra Saves the World centers on an ordinary Englishwoman in the years just prior to and during WWll. It is a quiet, graceful book, describing the small day to day activities of ordinary people trying to keep some semblance of order in their lives while dealing with the abruptly changing times.The main character, La (short for Lavender) Stone, grew up on a hilltop in Surrey, and left to attend Cambridge where she expected to “be taught how to think.” Instead, she married immediately upon graduation and began a privileged life, typical of women of her status and means. The marriage ending quickly, she finds herself living in her in-law’s cottage in a small Suffolk village.As she struggles to comprehend the war, she finds purpose in caring for a neighbor’s chickens as part of the Woman’s Land Army and in starting the small orchestra, whose players are both villagers and soldiers from the local RAF base. Music, she believes, has the power to inspire and heal. La comes to care for Feliks Dabrowski, a shy Polish refugee airman, even as she also begins to believe that he may not be what he claims.McCall Smith lends a light but meticulous touch to describing the events of La’s life. I had wanted to read his work, but didn’t wish to commit to a series. This stand alone novel was an excellent introduction. Often, tales set in wartime give us huge battles, huge conflicts, huge moral dilemmas. In La’s world, we find regular people using what talents they have to contribute to the war effort in whatever small ways they can. It’s not a perspective given often, and McCall Smith does it very well.

  • Gwen
    2019-03-10 04:50

    Every February, in honor of Valentine's Day, my local library has a "blind date with a book" feature whereby books are wrapped in gift paper and topped with a chocolate. Patrons are encouraged to checkout a book without knowing what is inside, thereby taking out something which they might ordinarily not select. This past February, I had a "blind date" with "La's Orchestra Saves the World". As it so happens, I would not have chosen this book on my own. I had previously read one of McCall Smith's books (Isabel Dalgleish?) and found it extremely dry and tedious. I also had endeavored to read a few from his "Ladies Detective Agency" as several family members and friends are fans - again with no joy on my part. I always felt as if he were trying too hard to put himself into characters that did not come naturally to the voices he was giving them.However, with this novel, I was taken in from start to finish. I found the characters charming and the reading and writing effortless as if McCall Smith had really found his voice telling the story of a young widows efforts during Word War II to boost morale in the Suffolk countryside by forming a small amateur orchestra. Although the novel is less about the orchestra and more about the necessity to maintain simple normalcies during the most abnormal times, the symbollism of bringing together this small group of disparate strangers and their perserverance during and after the war rang true with grace and authenticity.

  • Mari Anne
    2019-02-28 01:54

    I just can't resist a new Alexander McCall Smith! Hope it's as good as No. 1 Detective!New update: Just finished it and have to say I was disappointed. The basic plot of this story had so much potential that unfortunately was never realized. The author, like in many of his previous books, has a tendency to wax poetic and ramble on for paragraphs about lovely philosphical ideas that are quite profound I am sure, but add nothing to the actual story. During these pages I, your humble reader and reviewer, tend to start making lists in my head of things I should be doing rather than reading. Not good!I loved the character of La and Feliks but they just weren't develped fully enough to really "get" them. Smith has also peppered the book with other secondary characters and plot lines that were either unnecessary (the weird man-hating professor in Cambridge) or just strange (the Agg's son). If you do feel like you want to try this book I would suggest totally skipping the first chapter. Start with the second chapter and then read the first chapter last. The first chapter is meant to set the story up but it's boring and confusing and a good editor would have put it last!

  • Lynn
    2019-03-13 05:35

    Wow...quite a unique story, in my opinion! La was not a particularly forceful person, but she participated in life to the fullest extent possible, given her personality and circumstances. I love the way McCall Smith tells La's story and virtually no details of what I presume to be the happiest time of her life, with Feliks. I particularly appreciate the emphasis on the reality of making a difference, although in very small ways, as the overall majority of us are limited in societal power. I do believe that any difference made, no matter how small, makes a difference in the Universal flow overall, and I believe that was La's life... And that is all any of us can really do. We are relatively powerless against the political manipulations of world leaders overall, except in our own little realms of daily life. This wasn't one of my favorite books of all time, but I definitely feel better for having read it. As usual, McCall Smith tackles many societal issues, but so subtly that the story's deeper meaning affects the reader in the "glowing" aftermath! This was not an especially fast-moving book in some parts, but quite successful on the whole.

  • Lois
    2019-02-23 04:30

    The power of music, the impact of the small people on large events, the importance of kindness, Bach for order and Mozart for healing.

  • Jeanette Grant-Thomson
    2019-03-14 00:29

    Only just three. Okay for extremely light reading. It's a shame McCall Smith didn't develop his characters more. Not as good as the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books.

  • zespri
    2019-03-14 04:26

    Thank goodness for Alexander McCall Smith! His books are like a warm bath - soothing and comforting. A simple story of one woman's war and the aftermath.

  • Karen ⊰✿
    2019-03-04 06:26

    Fabulous human story about the impacts of WWII on a small country English town.It is a slow burn and a character driven novel and I thought it was absolutely readable and just lovely."That's because women haven't learnt their lesson"....."Which is?""To live their lives as if men did not exist."And although it is not La's intention, she lives her life alone, but finds great pleasure and satisfaction through relationships with others. Especially with the orchestra she starts and which keeps the local Air Force base, and some locals, hopeful during the darkest days of the war."I've often noticed how there are people who always talk about doing the right thing. But when you look closely at what the right thing is, it happens to be what's in their best interest anyway"

  • Moushumi Ghosh
    2019-03-09 04:34

    I picked this book up at the Book Fair earlier in the year and got around to reading it thanks to the fact that I was housebound for a week. I liked McCall Smith’s other books and I thought that it would be easier to read since it is a standalone book not a part of the series. Well, I was right. La’s Orchestra is a sedate little book about Lavender Fergusson (later La and Mrs. Stone) that is very much in the same vein as Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. A sort of a feel-good book about peripheral people during the Second World War. But then I was looking for a sedate book and it lived up to my expectations. You can even treat this book as a holiday from other exciting books. Pretty much nothing happens in the book even though Word War II rages on. We follow La as she is born in Surrey, loses her mother at 15, goes to college at Cambridge, marries, separates and goes back and forth Suffolk and London. She seems the most intellectually engaged when studying English Literature under the militant Feminist Dr Price in Cambridge and that’s usually by disagreeing with her. She marries Richard Stone because he is very charming and persuasive and is shocked by both her infertility and his infidelity. (I don’t believe they are causally related. As La herself says during her student discussion on T.S Elliot, ‘Post hoc is not always propter hoc.’) Her in-laws’ Suffolk home sounds like a perfect getaway. She comes on her own after she moves to Suffolk to heal her broken heart. When Richard dies in France in a freak accident, his share of their family enterprise makes La a young and well-off widow. While living in rural Suffolk, she wants to do something for the war effort. She tends to farmer Henry’s hens, builds a friendship with the neighbour Mrs. Agg and farmer Henry and Tim, a friend’s cousin who calls on her. Out of sheer boredom (La’s an intelligent though somewhat passive woman) puts together a rag-tag orchestra, which becomes a symbol of victory first and then of peace. With Tim making all the arrangements, La’s Orchestra is born. When Feliks Dabrowski, a Polish airman, is assigned to work in Henry’s farm, La feels attracted to him as he does too however reserved he is. But there is a war going on and so along with tea and biscuits, love seems a luxury to indulge in. She also suspects that Feliks is German and the general mistrust in the air creates a spot of trouble where Feliks is arrested. Later he is released honourably, which makes La feel guilty. Five years on, the Orchestra gives its Victory concert, which cheers up the village enormously and fills them with a sense of purpose that is not just to do with guns and politics. La conducts her orchestra, which had long started to take on symbolic proportions. Feliks too plays in it. However, after the war, people are scattered and she goes back to life in London, which is markedly different from the one she led before that. Her in-laws’ considerable fortune comes to her, leaving her with no worries about how to fund her life. If anything, La seems to have both time and money and yet doesn’t seem to do much with it. She is politically aware and even joins a peace march sometime in her 50s. She meets Feliks who has married and has two kids. With the arms race and the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s, La feels the end of the world looming close yet again and so calls on her the few Orchestra buddies she had been in touch with through the years. They turn up as if summoned and the Orchestra plays its peace concert. Towards the end of the concert, peace is declared. Hence, the title. Only if you allow for the flawed logic, which seems to be an echo of ‘post hoc is not always propter hoc.’ Towards the end of the book, she makes a decision to ask Feliks and his boys to stay with her. La is one of the most detached protagonists I have ever read. Events happen to her; she is not the one who decides. If Murakami ever decides on a female protagonist, La would be her. But it’s refreshing since there are very few protagonists whose agency is not with them. Sometimes, other things and people make decisions. La does have ideas, making the decision to move to Suffolk and move back to London, growing her vegetable garden, taking lemonade to Feliks as he works on the farm. But there is this feeling that La holds her breath and waits around way too much. Her sense of decorum and propriety stop her from acting on her feelings. In that sense La is almost ordinary. But ordinariness also has its place in the scheme of things. The ordinary English life, the ordinary English people, the ordinary garden – it seems the war was being fought to protect exactly this ordinary life. So La’s Orchestra, the book, is a celebration of ordinariness. It makes me think of Doctor Who and the Doctor’s delight in the everyday and ordinary human beings. So the book’s a read for a lazy Sunday afternoon preferably in the garden with a cup of tea and biscuits. It won’t shake your beliefs or make you question anything. It will however make you feel warm and take delight in the ordinary.

  • Joan
    2019-02-23 23:27

    Not every battle of World War II was fought by soldiers, on the seas and oceans, on the beaches, on the landing fields. And if there were no combatants involved, some were still indeed fought in the fields and the streets, as ordinary English men and women went about their lives, riding out the storm of war, doing the small things that needed doing.*This novel, a departure from McCall Smith's usual serial work, is about one such Englishwoman, Lavender Stone, in one small Suffolk village.Lavender Stone did not go to Cambridge to find a husband, yet she did. While at Girton College, she met and was pursued by Richard Stone. Marrying him, she fell into an ordinary sort of marriage, gradually coming to love him as she had believed he loved her, only to find the idyll shattered when he absconds to live with another woman in France. La retreats to a cottage owned by her in-laws to lick her wounds, but is shortly called to go to France where her husband has been fatally injured in a freak accident. On the way home, her ship stops and the captain informs the passengers that England is at war.Back in Suffolk, La begins to rebuild her life under the cloud of war. She must learn that life here is different from life in London, that people are different, that customs are different. As we have come to expect from McCall Smith, we are introduced to a variety of interesting folks, from Henry Madder, the arthritic farmer for whom La begins to do a bit of work, to Feliks Dabrowski, the Polish soldier and refugee in whom she takes an interest and who may not be what he seems, to her neighbors the Aggs and their odd son.Gradually, La settles in. Then a chance word in a conversation with an Air Force officer gives her an idea, an idea that "came suddenly, as perfectly formed ideas sometimes do. She would start an orchestra." And so she does. Villagers and soldiers come together to play music, unifying the community in the face of a crisis that goes on, day after day, until they play a victory concert.That concert is echoed years later, in the days of the Cuban missile crisis, when La brings the orchestra back together for a concert for peace, a time when, as I well remember, we all thought we were going to die in a nuclear holocaust. She chose "Bach for order; Mozart for healing", good choices, I think.I don't believe that one can fully appreciate or understand this book if one does not take into consideration the great love that Alexander McCall Smith, a musician himself, has for music**, and his belief in its transformative power. It is music that brings La into her own, after a life that has been mostly reactive, a life that, as she herself says, has been that of a "handmaiden". Music, and the bringing together of others for the purpose of making music, helps her move forward into life and love.* apologies to Winston for the paraphrasing!** Surely the fact that he named a character "Leontine Price" is not accidental!

  • Jennifer H
    2019-03-11 04:45

    This book is awesome. To start off, I really enjoy WWII books. It's really something that we shouldn't forget. Her joining the peace walk (toward the end of the book) and seeing the younger generation just didn't understand the atrocities that occurred. No one could have reasoned with Hitler. It's absurd to really think so. And evil person will do whatever it takes to maintain power and continue with the evilness. If the person had been reasonable, they wouldn't have started down the evil path in the first place! And look, what Hitler did was evil, no doubt about it; it was on a completely different level than some of the current dictators. La's path through the war and beyond, her thinking, was easily to related to and understandable. I very much enjoyed the idea of the orchestra, and the difference that it made in the people's lives. Music has such great power - to bring people together, to create memories or feelings, or just to let go and forget about troubles for a little while.Being the same age as her in the main part of the book, I understand her struggle to be single, happy, and not too lonely. I especially appreciated her relationship with Feliks. "And so I watched him from afar, as some women have to do, they wait upon the man they love, discretely, and in fear of rejection, like somebody worshiping a god whom they can't quite see." I also understood the feeling of all around big things happening, and being outside of those events, standing in the wings. I think everyone has that "what impact am I even making on life" thought at some time or another.I found the minor reflections on God interesting. I can imagine that at that time people had their beliefs severely tested. Funny that, being a WWII book, there's not a focus on the atrocities, but on the localized impact of this portion of England. It was realistic. I enjoyed the comparison between city and county people, and about people developing characteristics of a place. "People are different in different places." People do tend to carry on the work of their fathers. You can even see that, though, when people aren't in one place for generations. Her thinking about the King's extension of his symbol even onto the buttons was true. My mom would never (barely ever?) let us buy clothes that was free advertising for some brand. "A free man - a really free man - could not carry the symbol of another on his clothing."

  • Donna LaValley
    2019-03-08 05:42

    This is a good book, but is miss-titled (imho). The main character "La" helps create a country orchestra during WWII, but the orchestra and how it helped the war effort, or even how it helped more than 2 people through the hardships, is not the focus of the book. It's about the main character and her experiences before, during, and after the war: her loneliness, fears, personal disappointments, and experiences. She wasn't greatly deprived, being wealthy. The charm comes from the village and the intermix with a nearby army camp. The downsides are that I didn't like any of the characters much (except perhaps the Polish captive) and that the resolution of the "love story" is rather missing. Alexander McCall Smith is a prolific, popular writer and I've enjoyed at least 3 of his series. He has earned the right to finish his book any way he pleases and he can grind any axes he likes. I usually agree with his ax grinding anyway. In this book you'll get WWII info, country life during the war, philosophy, and political opinion, and some insight: "She asked herself whether he would have done this to her had he looked different, had he not had about him that unsettling male beauty, that glowing smoothness and harmony of feature. At first she thought yes, and then she thought no. And it was the no, she imagined, that was more realistic. Human beauty requires of us an intense response. We want to own the beautiful; we want to possess it. We wish that it would somehow rub off on us, simply by being in its presence." I was struck by "human beauty requires of us an intense response" -- this sent me to thinking of any kind of beauty, and beyond wanting to possess it, to want to express it instead, and to magnify and share the wonder of it. I hadn't thought of putting that feeling into words before. So again, hats off to Alexander.

  • Kathleen
    2019-03-17 07:50

    I really enjoy Alexander McCall Smith's writing and his value system. This isn't one of the books from his series, and it parallels his own love of music. La (short for Lavender) is betrayed, then widowed, then moves to the country and finds peace in her garden, until the outbreak of World War II. Her contributions to winning the war are caring for chickens and, more importantly, keeping the semblance of peace and the normal rhythms of life moving forward by forming an orchestra. It combines townspeople and soldiers from a nearby air base, and though they can only practice about once a month, it gives the members a focus other than their dangers and deprivations. There is a gentle (and delayed) love story as well, as La befriends Polish airman and musician Feliks Dabrowski. Here's a quote that I liked, and it concerns a reunion concert La conducts after the Cuban Missile Crisis: "But that was not why La had called the concert. She had called it because she believed in the power of music. Absurdly, irrationally, she believed that music could make a difference to the temper of the world. She did not investigate this belief, test it to see whether it made sense; she simply believed it, and so she chose music that expressed order and healing; Bach for order; Mozart for healing. This was the antithesis of the anger and fear that could unleash the missiles; this was the music showing the face of love. and forgiveness."

  • Afshin
    2019-03-04 04:36

    Is life simple and linear? Or as modern literature tried to convince us it’s complicated and unapproachable. Are we lost in maze of life, with different conflicted features in our mind or not? After I finished “La’s Orchestra saves the world” I struggled with these kinds of questions for a while. I could not believe that you can simplified life as it reflected in the story and still believing that the story is “an evocation of wartorn England, with its palpable mood of defiance” as some claimed. For me the story was totally disappointing. I did not sense the pivotal presence of the orchestra and far more important not a glimpse of a saved world. Alexander McCall Smith did not bother to introduce us to orchestra’s member, not even much on what they play or what might be the reflections. How can you expect to feel deeply sad if you don’t know the members that passed away in the war at the end of the story? The book is full of lost theme like the two brothers at the opening of story who have no role in the rest of the book (and I believe that you can dismiss them without any structural injury), or suspenseful events after intruding Lennie to La’s house which lose its meaning after another two pages.The story is recommended for Victorian style book lovers, might they find meaning in this motto full narrative.

  • Kiera Healy
    2019-03-07 07:32

    You know what you're getting with an Alexander McCall Smith novel - lots of internal monologue, debates on social niceties, and not much in the way of plot. Still, I find that his books can be very hit and miss.This one was particularly good. La (short for Lavender) is a young widow at the outbreak of WW2. Living in a village, she longs to be useful, and eventually establishes a small orchestra for servicemen and locals to come together and feel a sense of hope. Here, McCall Smith's slightness of plot works well: it's an interesting focus on a local heroine, whose "heroics" are quite different from the WW2 norm. Occasionally it drags, and I was confused because La's interest in music seemed to come out of nowhere - it hadn't been established before the orchestra idea came up - but generally, I really enjoyed this.In particular, there is an excellent subplot about the heartbreaking treatment of the Poles during WW2, and their horrendous betrayal by the Allies at the end of the war. Tears were brought to my eyes at one point - it's unusual to feel such strong emotion during a McCall Smith novel, but his indignation really sings from the page. This is one of his better works, and I'd highly recommend it.