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Book Review: Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus

Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus
Publisher: Coach House Press

Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus translates to Twenty Visions of Infant Jesus. In Western classical music and jazz, a collection of ordered pieces of instrumental pieces is called a suite. Hence, Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus is a suite of 20 such pieces. The book in question is based on the same pieces of music. It comprises essays on the themes of God, the magic of love, joyful spirit and the creativity of the divine.

The composition of one of the toughest single piano pieces was done after the second world war and that inspired several poets to put their creative brains to work. Borrowing inspiration from the same, this book elucidates the difference between the oxymorons like sound and silence, joy and terror, beauty and evil. The verses amplify the idea of a greater something that surpasses the mortal nothings and embraces the divinity. Using recurring motifs and themes, the verses do justice to the eventual outcome of understanding the music and imbibing the essence of each piece. My special favourites were Regard du temps (“Contemplation of time”), Noël (“Christmas”) and Regard du silence (“Contemplation of silence”).

Words flow flawlessly and there is a certain invisible rhythm to them that can be felt when you read them. The author deftly uses imagery and sensory details to give a form to ‘I’, the body that is far and beyond the reach of anyone yet it still experiences and rejoices the blessings of God. One of the common themes that I understood was that of God showering his grace and salvation to humankind by sending Christ to earth. Right from ‘Contemplation of Father or Regard du Père’ to ‘Contemplation of the Cross or Regard de la croix’- each essay describes the magnificent relationship with the extraordinary spirit that is outside everything. That spirit is accessible to the human in form of a loving father- that is what the first essay highlights.

Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus is an acclaimed composition of music and reading the chords translated into words was a different experience overall. It was difficult to understand at first and I cannot deny that. But two rounds of reading and a little bit of research helped me understand some part of it. It was an enriching experience as I discovered about Olivier Messiaen.

Best wishes to the author!

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