The Songs

Publication Date: Jun 06, 2017

336 pp


List Price US $24.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 978-1-59051-799-4


List Price US $14.99
ISBN: 978-1-59051-800-7

A heart-breaking choice made 60 years earlier by folk legend Iz Herzl leaves an indelible mark on the next generation.

The Songs tells the extraordinary story of Iz Herzl, famed political activist and protest singer, who has always told his children that it is the future not the past they should concentrate on. Now, at 80, an almost forgotten figure, estranged from everyone who has ever loved him, his refusal to look back on his life leaves his teenage children, the brilliant Rose and her ailing younger brother, Huddie, adrift in myths and uncertainty that cause them to retreat into a secret world of their own.

Iz’s other child, Joseph, a faltering Broadway songwriter 40 years older than Rose and Huddie, whose one disastrous meeting as a child with his father has left him lost and alone, is on a shocking and violent path to self-destruction. When the disparate members of the Herzl family finally meet, the ambiguities at the heart of Iz Herzl’s life begin to surface in a way that will change all of them.

Excerpt from The Songs

My brother Huddie said that we must be in the very small percentile of people who had a mother who fell out of the same window twice. Even animals don’t do that: they learn from experience. [ . . . ]

He had done some research on falling. He had found out that it is better if your body is floppy, but the problem is that you instinctively tense up in a dangerous situation like falling out of a window and that’s why bones get broken and people get killed. Being drunk—like our mother was—can sometimes help you: the cognitive processes are slower and the tensing-up instinct does not kick in so quickly and that can save your life. It certainly did for our mother the first time she fell: no bones were broken. Her spleen was ruptured, but luckily that wasn’t an organ in constant use, unlike her liver.

Of course, being drunk is not an infallible method of falling from a window safely. Our mother was also drunk the second time, but she fell differently and her head hit the pavement first. She was in a coma for three days before they switched off the machine. Iz told us he had taken us to the hospital to see her but, because I was only three and Huddie two, we did not remember it. That was almost the only thing he ever told us about our mother, and we knew better than to ask him.

“The completely self-absorbed, ultimately inscrutable protagonist at the center of this thoughtful novel about fame and fortune is folk singer Iz Herzl, beloved by millions for his passionate political advocacy and commitment to justice…Like Mr Toppit, Elton’s first novel, this new work examines the complex, mostly dark consequences of a family dealing with public notoriety and stardom, and it is not a pretty picture…Sad and moving…A heartbreaking read.”  —Library Journal 

“A blend of light, rather English humor, tragedy, and individual experiences of struggle… Thoughtful.” —Kirkus Reviews 

“Music seems to be something of a theme this summer… The follow-up to Elton’s Mr Toppit… [The Songs] is the story of siblings Huddie and Rose who are searching for the truth about their musician father Iz Herzl, a protest singer and political activist. Now in his 80s, Iz refuses to discuss the past but his children are particularly curious about their half-brother Joseph, now a West End songwriter. A tale of family, fame and ambition.” —The Bookseller (UK)

“This is a truly wonderful novel—heartbreaking, funny, and such a painful dissection of family life it makes one wince.” Deborah Moggach, author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Songs is a compelling and surprising novel about a family defined and separated by a musical legacy. Charles Elton is a writer of unusual intelligence and emotional insight, moving with ease from one viewpoint to another, building a collective portrait that is both complex and convincing.” —Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher