Orfeo

The National Book Award–winning author of The Echo Maker delivers his most emotionally charged novel to date, inspired by the myth of Orpheus. “If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century…he’d probably be the Herman Melville of Moby-Dick. His picture is that big,” wrote Margaret Atwood (New York Review of Books). Indeed, since his debut in 1985 with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, Richard Powers has been astonishing readers with novels that are sweeping in range, dazzling in technique, and rich in their explorations of music, art, literature, and technology. music-links-buttonIn Orfeo, Powers tells the story of a man journeying into his past as he desperately flees the present. Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab—the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns—has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive. As an Internet-fueled hysteria erupts, Els—the “Bioterrorist Bach”—pays a final visit to the people he loves, those who shaped his musical journey. Through the help of his ex-wife, his daughter, and his longtime collaborator, Els hatches a plan to turn this disastrous collision with the security state into a work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around them. The result is a novel that soars in spirit and language by a writer who “may be America’s most ambitious novelist” (Kevin Berger, San Francisco Chronicle).

Northern California Book Award
California Book Award Silver Medal
Longlist: Man Booker Prize, National Book Award, Folio Prize, Carnegie Medal
Notable/Best Books of 2014: Washington Post, The Economist, Chicago Tribune, NPR, Houston Chronicle, Telegraph (UK), The Daily Beast, Washington Independent Review of Books, Gazette (Iowa), ABE Books, Booklist Editors’ Choice, South China Morning Post, Humo (Belgium), San Francisco Chronicle, Phi Beta Kappa, ALA Notable Books

Selected blog posts about Orfeo


Praise for Orfeo by Richard Powers

“Magnificent and moving.”.  —David Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

“Extraordinary….his evocations of music, let alone lost love, simply soar off the page….Once again, Richard Powers proves himself to be one of our finest novelists.”  —Dan Cryer, Newsday

“Powers is prodigiously talented. Besides being fearfully erudite, he writes lyrical prose, has a seductive sense of wonder and is an acute observer of social life….. Why did I pick it up eagerly each day and find myself moist-eyed when I came to its last pages? That, I think, has everything to do with Powers’s skill at putting us into the mind of his protagonist…  Unbearably poignant.”   —Jim Holt, The New York Times Book Review

“Powers deftly dramatizes the obsession that has defined Els’s life: ‘How did music trick the body into thinking it had a soul?’”  —The New Yorker

“Orfeo is extraordinary and confounding, mind-spinning and wonderful. Just what a proper novel should be.” —James Kidd, The Independent

“Powers proves, once again, that he’s a master of the novel with Orfeo, an engrossing and expansive read that is just as much a profile of a creative, obsessive man as it is an escape narrative.”.   —Elizabeth Sile, Esquire

“Very often, this novel makes you want to scurry to CD player or iPod to listen along… formidably intelligent and ecstatically noisy….”—Steven Poole, The Guardian  

“Powers’ writing is complex and heady without being headachy, and his synesthetic descriptions of finding melodies in the mundane are full of their own kind of music.” Entertainment Weekly  

Orfeo is a first-class American road novel . . . . And with all this excitement around music, in this retelling of the Orpheus myth Powers also manages enchantment.”   —Scott Korb, Slate  

Orfeo is that rare novel truly deserving of the label ‘lyrical.’ . . . Richard Powers offers a profound story whose delights are many and lasting.”  —Harvey Freedenberg, Minneapolis Star-Tribune  

“A master novelist… His wise, enthusiastic writing about music will transport readers.”   —Emily Bobrow, The Economist

Orfeo benefits from the deep sympathy Powers seems to feel for the brilliant and troubled protagonist he has created.. . .  [It] establishes beyond any doubt that the novel is very much alive.”   —Troy Jollimore, Chicago Tribune

“Mesmerizing…exquisite…elegant.”   —Charles R. Larson, Counterpunch

“I believe only (in alphabetical order) DeLillo, Morrison, Pynchon, and Roth – all two decades older – stand above him. Of novelists in Powers’s generation with whom he is often compared – Franzen, Vollmann, Wallace – none equals Powers’s combination of consistent production, intellectual range, formal ingenuity, and emotional effect.”  —Tom LeClair, The Christian Science Monitor

“Richard Powers, whose novels combine the wonders of science with the marvels of art, astonishes us in different ways with each new book.  …  The questions he raises about biological and artistic culture are deeply intelligent, yet his characters in Orfeo are sympathetically human. His female characters…are particularly appealing, competent and strong… Bravo, Richard Powers, for hitting so many high notes with Orfeo and contributing to the fraction of books that really matter.”   —Heller McAlpin, NPR Books

“Engrossing…spellbinding…  Profound and lovely.”   —Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“One long express-train ride to the gorgeous. … And the scenery is as sublime as ever. … These are ecstasies that can consume a whole life, but to those who hold a book like “Orfeo” in their hands, it certainly seems worth it.”   —Laura Miller, Salon

“Gorgeously modulated…  The book sets its themes early — grief and love, exploration and its limits — and plays variations on them, some of such power it is the only thing that forces you to stop…  A brave novel…  Powers has made these risks seem not revolutionary, but astonishingly, essential.”   —John Freeman, The Toronto Star

Orfeo displays all the excellences for which Richard Powers is celebrated. … But beyond the conceptual fit is the beauty of its expression… [It] has passages that rise to ecstasy. Its descriptions mushroom, transforming grit to psalms. … [Powers] embraces a new playfulness and teases out unexpected glimmers of possibility.”   —John Domini, Philadelphia Inquirer/Philly.com

“For sheer bravado in constructing sentences, few authors of contemporary fiction can surpass Powers… The end result is a style that mixes the best elements of Oliver Sacks, Alex Ross and Virginia Woolf. I’m not sure any other writer could pull this off, but Powers has the formula down… One of his finest yet.”   —Ted Gioia, The San Francisco Chronicle

“It is a rare thing to finish a book and still be lost in it – to be startled by the drone of a lawnmower or the thunk of the next dishwasher cycle because a story has lifted you, so completely, out of time. … a dense, bracing, gorgeous opera of words….”   —Maggie Galehouse, The Houston Chronicle

“Powers reaffirms the magnetic attraction between music and the miracle of life…  Orfeo alternates between bittersweet memories of his past and the taut predicament of the present.  There’s a touching juxtaposition in these reflections, an evergreen excitement that sits alongside regret…  The raptures of music seem to invigorate [Powers], and there are extended passages…that are as fine as anything the author has written.”   —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“Deliriously beautiful.”   —Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Orfeo is beautiful, challenging, and haunting, a composition that captures a period of time while hinting at timelessness.”   —Rob Cline, The Gazette (Eastern Iowa)

“The earmarks of the renowned novelist’s work are here—the impressive intellect, the patterns connecting music and science and so much else, the classical grounding of the narrative, but rarely have his novels been so tightly focused and emotionally compelling.”   —Kirkus (starred review)

“Powers has a way of rendering the world that makes it seem familiar and alien, friendly and frightening….the effect is heartbreaking and beautiful.”   —Booklist (boxed, starred review)

“Powers’s talent for translating avant-garde music into engrossing vignettes on the page is inexhaustible.”.  —Publishers Weekly (boxed, starred review)

“In a virtuoso performance, Powers roams as easily through modern technology as he does through arcane opera. His language, humor and sheer exuberance make this modern tale of Orpheus as fresh as the latest Al Jazeera cellphone video… It’s a stunning novel.”   —Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness

“Orfeo is the kind of novel that creeps slowly into a reader’s consciousness and makes a home there. A beautiful, cerebral book… Orfeo is an intelligent and incredibly moving portrait of the role of art in both one man’s life and society as a whole. Stunning!”   —Lauren Wiser, February 2014 ABA Indie Next Selection

“Experimental music and genetic engineering? Heady stuff indeed, but what is most remarkable about this thought-provoking journey is how intensely it makes you feel about human creativity, experience, and the enigmatic fugitive Peter Els, whose flight from an uncomprehending world anchors the narrative. A perfect introduction to this brilliant but sometimes forbidding author.”    David Wright, Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA (A January 2014 “LibraryRead”) 

“A musical marvel…  Powers is no ordinary novelist, and Orfeo is no ordinary novel. Like the haunting music it describes, it is stirring and odd, elegant and melancholy, the kind of book you can’t shake…”   —Julienne Isaacs, Winnipeg Free Press

2014 Orfeo, W. W. Norton & Company ISBN 978-0-393-24082-5

Comments are closed.