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A Novel

Richard Powers (Author)

Overview | Formats

A Chicago Tribune 'Best Books of 2014'
New York Times Bestseller
Longlisted for The Man Booker Prize
Longlisted for the National Book Award

The National Book Award–winning author of The Echo Maker delivers his most emotionally charged novel to date, inspired by the myth of Orpheus.

"If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century…he'd probably be the Herman Melville of Moby-Dick. His picture is that big," wrote Margaret Atwood (New York Review of Books). Indeed, since his debut in 1985 with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, Richard Powers has been astonishing readers with novels that are sweeping in range, dazzling in technique, and rich in their explorations of music, art, literature, and technology.

In Orfeo, Powers tells the story of a man journeying into his past as he desperately flees the present. Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab—the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns—has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive. As an Internet-fueled hysteria erupts, Els—the "Bioterrorist Bach"—pays a final visit to the people he loves, those who shaped his musical journey. Through the help of his ex-wife, his daughter, and his longtime collaborator, Els hatches a plan to turn this disastrous collision with the security state into a work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around them. The result is a novel that soars in spirit and language by a writer who “may be America’s most ambitious novelist” (Kevin Berger, San Francisco Chronicle).

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • January 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-393-24082-5
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 384 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Singapore and Malaysia, but excluding the British Commonwealth.

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverOrfeo: A Novel


Endorsements & Reviews

“Powers deftly dramatizes the obsession that has defined Els’s life: ‘How did music trick the body into thinking it had a soul?'” — The New Yorker

“Powers is prodigiously talented, he writes lyrical prose, has a seductive sense of wonder and is an acute observer of social life.” — Jim Holt, The New York Times Book Review

“Powers’s talent for translating avant-garde music into engrossing vignettes on the page is inexhaustible. Els’s obsession with avant-garde, which isolates him from everyone he loves, becomes the very thing that aligns him with the reader.” — Publishers Weekly, Starred review

“The earmarks of the renowned novelist’s work are here… but rarely have his novels been so tightly focused and emotionally compelling.” — Kirkus, Starred review

“Bravo, Richard Powers, for hitting so many high notes with Orfeo and contributing to the fraction of books that really matter.” — Heller McAlpin, NPR

“Powers proves, once again, that he's a master of the novel with Orfeo, an engrossing and expansive read that is just as much a profile of a creative, obsessive man as it is an escape narrative.” — Elizabeth Sile, Esquire

Orfeo is that rare novel truly deserving of the label ‘lyrical'…. Richard Powers offers a profound story whose delights are many and lasting.” — Harvey Freedenberg, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Orfeo reveals how a life, and the narrative of a life, accumulates, impossibly, infinitely, from every direction…. In this retelling of the Orpheus myth Powers also manages enchantment.” — Scott Korb, Slate

Orfeo… establishes beyond any doubt that the novel is very much alive.” — Troy Jollimore, Chicago Tribune

“Magnificent and moving.” — David Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

“Extraordinary…[Powers's] evocations of music, let alone lost love, simply soar off the page.” — Dan Cryer, Newsday

“Of novelists in Powers's generation with whom he is often compared—Franzen, Vollmann, Wallace—none equals Powers's combination of consistent production, intellectual range, formal ingenuity, and emotional effect.” — Tom LeClair, The Christian Science Monitor

“For sheer bravado in constructing sentences, few authors of contemporary fiction can surpass Powers…One of his finest yet.” — Ted Gioia, The San Francisco Chronicle

“Powers’ writing is complex and heady without being head-achy, and his synesthetic descriptions of finding melodies in the mundane are full of their own kind of music.” — Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly

“An extraordinary feat… makes the inaccessible comprehensible.” — Andrew Leonard, Salon

“Biology and music, past and present, come together in a clever, explosive resolution.” — Adam Kirsch, Boston Globe

“While it starts off with a thriller plotline—falsely accused bioterrorist on the run—Richard Powers's Orfeo constantly shifts gears.” — Ron Hogan, The Daily Beast

“[T]he crowning achievement of this wildly imaginative Evanston native’s distinguished career.” — Chicago Tribune

“A fascinating novel about the allure and power of music.” — Washington Post