James Dalessandro – 1906


I don’t have my own phonograph, and it’s impossible to have physical representations of my collection of antique mp3s, but at least I now have a bookshelf full of books about years. Unbelievably, this is only the second or third* one I’ve come across so far (the number is due to go up quite a lot in the 1910s) except it isn’t about the year, it’s a novel set before, during and after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. So basically the kind of thing I’m not reading. But since I bought it, why not give it a go?

Did I like it? Not really. it’s a perfectly serviceable, regular novel, with a standard storyline which doesn’t do much to surprise, though it does its best to mildly shock. The historical context has obviously been thoroughly-researched, but something just doesn’t ring true. The dialogue and inner monologues just don’t seem convincing, everything seems like the voice of the author with imitations of ethnic accents on top. It may just be that I’ve been listening to the cadences of progressive-era speech for too long, but I simply can’t suspend my disbelief.

Here is a scene where the protagonist describes listening to a phonograph recording of Caruso. It’s a good illustration of how factually right and how tonally wrong I found it.

1906 excerpt

So, yes, I didn’t really like it. But if that’s your sort of thing then you can apparently buy it at Amazon for 1p here.

*depending on whether we count ‘London, 1900’


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