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John Sinclair

The Phoenix Song


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A young violin prodigy grows up in Harbin and Shanghai amidst the absurd and often deadly politics of mid-century China. Under the dual influences of her revolutionary parents and the White Russian intellectuals who are her tutors (and who provide her with a link, personal and tragic, to the composer Dmitri Shostakovich) she is drawn into a precarious world of ideology and espionage where music must serve not only ‘the masses’, but also the unpredictable whims and grand strategies of great leaders. Moving between China, Europe and New Zealand, the young protagonist learns how music and its artefacts link individuals across time in a chain alternately transcendent and tragic, and encounters the compromises that talent, fate and family force upon her.

‘The Phoenix Song is a major work, meticulously researched, mostly credible, and with a special historical fun moment reprised - a performance of a new Chinese violin concerto in the presence of the Russian leader, Premier Khrushchev, that is a rip-off of a Shostakovich composition. Music lovers will also appreciate the author's talent for describing how performers live with and for their music.’
—Ian Williams, Otago Daily Times

‘In The Phoenix Song, you are in the hands of somebody whose narrative drive and grasp of history are impeccable.’ 
—Nicholas Reid, NZ Listener

John Sinclair was born in England in 1962, and has lived in New Zealand since the age of seven. He studied literature at Otago University, is a graduate of Victoria University's creative writing masters programme, and has worked as a political speechwriter, a Treasury official, roving public policy consultant and yoga teacher. In 1995 he lived in Harbin, China, as a Visiting Fellow at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, courtesy of the Asia Foundation of New Zealand. He lives in Wellington with his wife and son. This is his first novel.

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