La's Orchestra Saves the World

  • by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Narrated by Emily Gray
  • 7 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Alexander McCall Smith takes a break from his popular No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series for this stirring historical novel. In 1939, Lavender flees London to escape the German bombs and her shattered marriage. Settling in a small town, she pulls together a makeshift orchestra to help cope with the times.

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Audible Editor Reviews

Emily Gray’s narration brings vivid life to Lavender, a determinedly no-nonsense bluestocking who, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, finds refuge from a failed marriage in a bucolic English village. There she forms a local orchestra and develops a relationship with Feliks, a flute-playing Polish refugee whom she eventually comes to suspect of being a German spy. Gray’s performance carries reserves of wit and hesitant curiosity towards her new surroundings, her voice conveying a furrowed brow, a quizzical look, and a dry sense of humor, all of which make for an entertaining performance.
Gray is not always helped by her material: Although Alexander McCall Smith is a wildly successful author, with two very popular series of books translated into almost every known language; his latest is an unfocussed affair that doesn’t quite manage to do justice to the very big themes invoked. But only at a few moments does the awkwardness affect Gray’s sparkling performance, notably her handling of the male characters. The supporting cast of country folk are also drawn with a very broad brush, but, again, there is little in the book to support the narrator. Overall her performance is a real gift to the story, bringing spice and liveliness and real involvement to this slender tale.
The story focuses at the dilemma of tending to one’s own garden, Candide-style, in a period of history that demands action and resolve. The great historical forces can feel bolted on to the rest of the narrative, with the characters stumbling over the joints. Also, the author’s attitude towards the importance of music and art in times of war is unclear: Music, we are assured, can "heal the temper of the world", but the presence of a community orchestra seems an unnecessary layer and contributes very little to the story — its members are barely visible. Far more convincing is the mirroring of Lavender's feeling that she has betrayed Feliks with Britain's betrayal of the Polish people in the Yalta Conference, and Gray distinctly portrays Lavender’s struggle as well as the character’s underlying moral strength, a quality that is the book’s finest attribute. —Dafydd Phillips

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What the Critics Say

"Delightful...McCall Smith once again creates unforgettable characters and a story that will resonate with readers across generations....A fresh and unforgettable story about the power of human kindness. Highly recommended." (Booklist)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

McCall Smith Does It Again!

My only complaint with McCall Smith's books is that they are too short! But I guess that's also one of his books' assets - the writing always conveys the breadth of complex ideas and issues that we all face as we traverse the planet, with such economy of expression and lightness of touch, that it seems there is not one extra word or sentence.

And now, with "La's Orchestra" he brings to life the civilian world of WW II with such clarity and resonance it feels as though he could be talking about things that happened yesterday.


When I am in the middle of an Alexander McCall Smith listen, I always feel as though I am with a friend. I think that Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Isabel Dalhousie of the eponymous series, and now La, are all soul mates, rendered in perfect nuance and salient, luxuriant, radiant detail by Alexander McCall Smith. It's always a bit of a downer when and one of these books ends, and sometimes I feel I need a support group for McCall Smith addicts! Fortunately for like-minded readers, McCall Smith is prolific, and one does not have to wait very long for Mme. Ramotswe or Isabel Dalhousie to reappear. Let's hope we see more of La, as well.
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- Pamela Harvey "glam"

B-O-R-I-N-G

I HAD TO WRITE A REVIEW BECAUSE I CAN'T BELIEVE ANYONE WOULD GIVE THIS BOOK 5 STARS! I loved the first three No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, after that they were still enjoyable, but gradually lost their spark. I was hoping that Smith would come roaring back with this new subject "La". Did the book ever begin? Was there a story worth writing anywhere in it? Nothing ever happened. What was there to like? I didn't even like "La". She could have opened up her home to people in need. But no, she was an aristocrat who tended chickens and thought herself noble for the effort. If you want to read an excellent story set in WW2, read "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"
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- P. Chavez

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-08-2009
  • Publisher: Recorded Books