April 23, 2021

Book Beat: The Orphan Sky by Ella Leya

I mentioned a book-signing I attended recently for Ella Leya’s debut novel The Orphan Sky published by Sourcebooks Landmark. With trepidation and expectation, I started the first chapter. As a bit of back story, this author is someone I used to know as a singer in Chicago before her move to California and London. While Leya is a lovely performer, composer and lyricist, I was unaware of her literary aspirations. What a delightful surprise to see that this woman can really write, with English as her second language being no impediment to graceful and gripping prose.

By chapter 3, I was hooked. The writing bears kinship with the magic realism of Salman Rushdie and contains a plot that draws the reader into the exotic locale of Baku, Azerbaijan during Soviet rule in the 1970s. The book contains romance and intrigue along with such serious topics as Communist politics and Muslim morality. Music is the leitmotiv throughout the book with the heroine, Leila  being a concert pianist. The muezzin call to prayer, Azeri folk songs, the recordings of Billie Holiday and classical works by Rachmaninoff and Mozart are all woven into the soundtrack accompanying Leila’s rocky journey through familial, political, artistic and personal challenges.

Those wanting to know more about a girl’s coming of age in a culturally Muslim yet Communist Soviet Republic will be fascinated. Readers interested in learning how the Soviet government impacted artistic expression will be likewise engaged. For me, The Orphan Sky brought me into a world that was both engrossingly unfamiliar yet emotionally universal with a swirl of music and writing of the first order. With favorable quotes from people such as  Scott Turow, Tracy Chevalier and Quincy Jones, she hardly needs more encouragement, but Ella Leya, I implore you to make this the first of many books to come.

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