I was sent a copy of Rhapsody by James Mitchell Kaplan thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. I did enjoy the last book of his I read, Into the Unbounded Night. All opinions are my own.
Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook; 352 pages
One evening in 1924, Katharine “Kay” Swift—the restless but loyal society wife of wealthy banker James Warburg and a serious pianist who longs for recognition—attends a concert. The piece: Rhapsody in Blue. The composer: a brilliant, elusive young musical genius named George Gershwin.
Kay is transfixed, helpless to resist the magnetic pull of George’s talent, charm, and swagger. Their ten-year love affair, complicated by her conflicted loyalty to her husband and the twists and turns of her own musical career, ends only with George’s death from a brain tumor at the age of thirty-eight.
Set in Jazz Age New York City, this stunning work of fiction, for fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, explores the timeless bond between two brilliant, strong-willed artists. George Gershwin left behind not just a body of work unmatched in popular musical history, but a woman who loved him with all her heart, knowing all the while that he belonged not to her, but to the world.
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Mitchell James Kaplan pens a lilting, jazzy ballad as catchy as a Gershwin tune, bringing to vibrant life the complicated relationship between classically trained composer Kay Swift and free-wheeling star George Gershwin. Their musical bond is as powerful as their passion, and jazz-soaked gin-drenched Broadway is their playground through the tumultuous years of the Great War and Prohibition. Rhapsody will have you humming, toe-tapping, and singing along with every turn of the page.” –Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of THE ALICE NETWORK and THE HUNTRESS
“We all know Gershwin, but how many know he was ‘the man behind the woman,” the conflicted, extraordinary Katherine ‘Kay’ Swift? Mitchell James Kaplan illuminates her in Rhapsody, bringing his impressive knowledge of history, composition, and the heart’s whims to bear on this shining rendition of Swift and Gershwin’s star-crossed love.” –Therese Anne Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of Z and A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD
“In Rhapsody, Mitchell James Kaplan brings to lyrical life the romance between Kay Swift and George Gershwin. A gifted musician in her own right, Kay was no mere accompanist to Gershwin’s genius; she was a true partner, unfortunately little remembered today. Kaplan’s vivid prose and empathetic characterization shines a spotlight on this remarkable woman who contributed so much to American music.” –Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and Mistress of the Ritz
“Mitchell James Kaplan’s Rhapsody shines a blazing light on the celebrated George Gershwin, uncovering the man behind the legend through the story of the woman he loved, Kay Swift, a brilliant musician caught in the swiftly moving mores of New York’s Jazz Age. Rich with history and packed with intricate detail, Rhapsody soars.” –Randy Susan Meyers, bestselling author of THE WIDOW OF WALL STREET and WAISTED
“Mitchell James Kaplan has captured a whole world in his luminous journey through the jazz age in fast-paced New York City with this love story of composer Kay Swift and the brilliant but elusive George Gershwin. Kay first heard him playing his Rhapsody in Blue, but she was married to a wealthy man and Gershwin could be faithful only to his own genius. Through Broadway theaters and concerts, he was rising so fast that neither the Great Depression, nor the darkening rise of Hitler across the sea, nor the impossible difficulties of writing the first black folk-opera Porgy and Bess could stop him. Through their love affair, Gershwin and Kay gave fire to each other’s music until nothing could derail his meteoric success but time.” –Stephanie Cowell, American Book Award-winning author of CLAUDE AND CAMILLE and THE PHYSICIAN OF LONDON
About the Author:
Mitchell James Kaplan graduated with honors from Yale University, where he won the Paine Memorial Prize for Best Long-Form Senior Essay submitted to the English Department. His first mentor was the author William Styron.
After college, Kaplan lived in Paris, France, where he worked as a translator, then in Southern California, where he worked as a screenwriter and in film production.
He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his family and two cats.
July, 1926. Bydale.
Kay and George wandered on horseback through the leafy canyon. They crossed the brook and climbed into craggy hills. “Do you hear that?” George pulled back on the reins. His horse, Ella, snorted, shook her head, and paused.
“Hear what?” asked Kay. She stopped hers, Klyde.
“That music,” said George.
She listened. “I hear the stream. The leaves in the breeze. Is that what you hear, George?”
He stared into the forest. “All that, yes,” he said. “And that damned music.”
“As in… a melody?” asked Kay.
“An entire orchestral setting,” said George.
She shook her head. “It’s in your mind.”
“All music’s in your mind,” said George. “Otherwise, it’s just sound.”
They spread their blanket on a cliff overlooking the gorge and the creek. “Think about it,” George elaborated. “What is a melody? A string of notes. But you only hear one at a time. By the time you hear the next note, the one before is gone. And the rest of the song doesn’t exist yet. The whole song never actually exists, except between your two ears.”
“And on paper,” observed Kay.
“Yes, but that’s not music,” insisted George. “That’s a representation of music.”
“And a painting is a representation of a thing,” said Kay. “But that doesn’t make it not art.”
George shook his head. “No. A painting is not a representation of a thing. A painting is a thing.”
Kay laughed at the absurdity of this debate. “In any case, if there are no instruments, there’s no music.”
“That’s not true, either,” said George. He bit into an apple and changed the subject. “I paint, too, you know. One day we’ll fill a gallery with my oils. And folks will flock to it. Don’t laugh.”
She did not laugh. She smiled.
I have to admit that I didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about George Gershwin going into this book beyond the fact that he wrote some beautiful music. I still know that but now I’ve also read a very compelling novel based on the life of this very talented composer.
It centers around Rhapsody in Blue – music that once you hear it you never forget it – and given the time period, the worries of the Great Depression and the horrors of WWII and Hitler and the love of a woman. Sometimes music is so much more than a simple melody. Sometimes it’s something to bring everyone together or it can do even more.
So much here I didn’t know and it made me want to know even more. Gershwin gave the world so much beautiful music in such a short period of time. One can only imagine what he might have written had he not died so young. An American in Paris is one of my favorites and the music is transcendent.
This book was a fascinating read that brought the man and the time period alive and will hopefully encourage readers to go back and listen to Gershwin’s beautiful music.