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The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

The Gustav Sonata (2016)

by Rose Tremain

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4312639,122 (3.84)82
'It was a game of love and death. Neither of us will ever speak about it. It's locked inside us.' Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem distant. He adores his mother but she treats him with bitter severity, disapproving especially of his intense friendship with Anton, the Jewish boy at school. A gifted pianist, Anton is tortured by stage fright; only in secret games with Gustav does his imagination thrive. But Gustav is taught that he must develop a hard shell, 'like a coconut', to protect the softness inside - just like the hard shell perfected by his country, to protect its neutrality. But despite this hard shell, nothing in Gustav's life can be called neutral. Older, and increasingly curious about his absent father, Gustav discovers the traces of an erotic love affair - traces which still glow white-hot even now. Fierce, astringent, profoundly tender - and spanning the twentieth century - Rose Tremain's beautifully orchestrated novel explores the big themes of betrayal and the struggle for happiness, and above all, the passionate love of a childhood friendship as it is tested over a lifetime.… (more)



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English (23)  German (2)  French (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Kind of predictable. Not great but OK for night 'reading'. ( )
  oldblack | Feb 24, 2020 |
I loved the first 2/3 of the book, the last third was just not quiet as good ( )
  karenshann | Dec 31, 2019 |
Tremain chose to set her latest novel in Switzerland, exploring the complicity that enabled the country to remain neutral during World War Two. There is plenty of music in this book, which is a novel in sonata form. Against this backdrop she has constructed a touching story of friendship and love.

The first section explores the childhood of Gustav from 1947 to 1952. He is the child of a widowed mother Emilie, and lives a somewhat impoverished existence which is contrasted with that of his best friend Anton, a musical prodigy whose father is a rich Jewish banker. Emilie is cold towards Gustav and does not trust Anton's family.

In the second part we move back to 1937, where Emilie marries Erich, who has an important position in the local police. When the Bern government passes an edict forbidding the acceptance of Jews after a certain date, he agrees to falsify the entry dates for some Jewish refugees, and loses his job when this is uncovered. (view spoiler)

The third part covers a longer time-span from 1992 to 2002. Erich has become the proprietor of a small but successful hotel, which fails to impress his mother, while Anton is working as a music teacher. His piano playing is discovered by the owner of a classical record label who invites him to Geneva to record Beethoven's sonatas. The rest of the book explores the disruption this causes to Gustav's well-ordered life.

This edition comes with an author's afterword, which explains how it evolved from a short story which was just a small part of the final section. The story of the police official was taken from a real life story. It also explains how she wanted the book to be enjoyed on a number of different levels.

On the whole I found this a rewarding read full of quiet pleasures. ( )
  bodachliath | Apr 3, 2019 |
I liked this very much. If every novelist, at some point in their career, needs to confront the Holocaust, then this was an original and sideways way to go about it. Broken people living broken lives and managing the best ways they can. Searching for love and occasionally finding it. No one here was particularly remarkable, but there was a surfeit of compassion and loyalty and a genuine emotional payoff. ( )
  asxz | Mar 13, 2019 |
Well written book showing the disgrace of neutrality. Characters very well developed. ( )
  suesbooks | Nov 23, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Rose Tremain is natuurlijk een schrijfster die haar sporen al lang heeft verdiend – haar literaire werk is in 29 landen uitgebracht en wordt met grote regelmaat bekroond met prijzen en prachtige recensies. Het boek Gustav & Anton past helemaal in deze traditie. Tremain weet te boeien vanaf de allereerste tot aan de allerlaatste zin, met haar prachtige schrijfstijl die zowel vlot is en prachtige, heldere beelden bij de lezer oproept is, als diepgang heeft: Rose Tremain begrijpt mensen en hun gevoelens op een diep niveau. Ze schuwt het niet om ook de lelijkheid van het leven, van ziektes, van mensen en hun onderlinge relaties te laten zien...lees verder >
For Gustav Perle, the protagonist of this novel, life is a matter of restraint, self-control and, above all, neutrality. “You have to be like Switzerland,” urges his mother in the opening pages...This is also a book about friendship and longing, unsentimentally told and bleakly precise...t from this tangled mess of human relations, Tremain draws a conclusion that is simultaneously straightforward and sweetly transformative. Like so much else in this compassionate and musical novel, it hits a perfect note.
This is a perfect novel about life’s imperfection. Gustav is a mother’s boy growing up during the second world war in Switzerland. He has had to learn to have a stiff upper lip... The narrative skill and subtlety are exemplary. Tremain does not judge – so we, inevitably, do...Tremain is anything but an indulgent writer and is, here, writing at the height of her inimitable powers. Without giving away the ending, she has the most merciful, believable and uplifting surprise in store
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'If anyone should importune me to give a reason
why I loved him, I feel it could not otherwise be expressed than by making the answer, "Because it was he, because it was I".

- Michel de Montaigne, On Friendship
To the memory of Richard Simon
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At the age of five, Gustav Perle was certain of only one thing: he loved his mother.
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