The Magic strings of Frankie Presto

Mitch Albom

Rating 5/5

When I picked up this book from a relative’s bookshelf, I thought it was a children’s book. And maybe it is, but it doesn’t matter because it will absolutely melt your heart anyway.

The book begins just before the funeral of gifted musician Frankie Presto where we are greeted by a personified form of Music who then begins to narrate Frankie’s life story leading up to that moment. The part about Music relating the story was reminiscent of another fine book called The book thief where the story is narrated by Death himself. However, that is where the similarity ends.

What is remarkable about the book is how Albom weaves the life of Frankie, a fictitious character, into the musical landscape of the 1960s-80s when the protagonist is at his musical prime. The narrative is interspersed with monologues from friends and acquaintances of Frankie — each story telling us more about the person he was and making him seem more and more real. To be honest, I looked up if there was indeed a Frankie Presto.

Frankie’s story, as the book mentions, is a close parallel to the life of 19th century Spanish musician Francisco Tarrega. One could say that the book is a tribute to his life and works. His composition Lágrima is a recurring element in Frankie’s life.

Albom’s writing is gripping and the quick but straightforward sequence of events makes the book rather unputdownable. As I came to realise later, Albom is an accomplished musician himself (having made music in Hollywood) and that clearly shows through in the book. There are moments when the narrator Music compares the vagaries of Frankie’s life to the variations in tempo and scale of songs, and some of the analogies are breathtaking.

One can never know when life’s major chord changes to a minor. All it takes is a flattening of the third.

or when Frankie’s Maestro tells him how…

… life is painful initially. But then you develop calluses.

Much like music, the story makes you laugh, cry, be transported into another time and place, and feel the enduring power of love — the description of Frankie’s relationship with Aurora, who he meets as a child and eventually marries, is onion to the eyes.

It’s not as if contemporary literature is devoid of emotion, but it is somehow hard to believe that The Magic Strings… was written as recently as 2015. It belongs to the time its story spends most of its time in when the Beatles were singing, and gramophones were not dusting away in antique shops.