Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem only a distant echo. An only child, he lives alone with Emilie, the mother he adores but who treats him with bitter severity. He begins an intense friendship with a Jewish boy his age, talented and mercurial Anton Zweibel, a budding concert pianist.Read more...
Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem only a distant echo. An only child, he lives alone with Emilie, the mother he adores but who treats him with bitter severity. He begins an intense friendship with a Jewish boy his age, talented and mercurial Anton Zweibel, a budding concert pianist. The novel follows Gustav's family, tracing the roots of his mother's anti-Semitism and its impact on her son and his beloved friend. Moving backward to the war years and the painful repercussions of an act of conscience, and forward through the lives and careers of the two men, one who becomes a hotel owner, the other a concert pianist, The Gustav Sonata explores the passionate love of childhood friendship as it is lost, transformed, and regained over a lifetime. It is a powerful and deeply moving addition to the beloved oeuvre of one of our greatest contemporary novelists.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-25
- Reviewer: Staff
Tremain’s (The American Lover) melancholic latest centers on the lifelong friendship between Gustav Perle and Anton Zweibel. The book begins in 1947 Switzerland with Gustav and his mother, Emilie, a selfish woman whom Gustav loves in spite of her inability to nurture him. He never knew his father, only that he died in the war. When Anton arrives at Gustav’s kindergarten, and Gustav invites him home, Emilie says, “But of course he is a Jew... The Jews are the people your father died trying to save.” Anton is a talented but nervous child whose well-to-do parents encourage his desire to become a concert pianist. The boys are inseparable, sharing many sweet moments that Tremain beautifully crafts. Like a sonata, the book is divided into three parts. The second section goes back in time to the war following Gustav’s parents’ tragic marriage and the unraveling that hardened Emilie’s heart. In the last section, Gustav has become a lonely but successful middle-aged hotelier in his Swiss hometown. Anton, after years of teaching music, tries to rekindle his career as a pianist, with disastrous personal results. The great strength of Tremain’s writing is her brilliant, uncanny ability to capture the interior life of a child and to celebrate the triumphs of the many older characters populating the final, redemptive portion of the novel as they “become the people always should have been.” (Sept.)