The Prague Sonata is the story of Meta Taverner, a young musicologist who makes it her life’s quest to reunite three movements of the ‘Prague sonata’ after one movement is entrusted to her by a dying woman in her home town of New York.
Her life-changing quest to find the missing movements leads her across the world to Prague and back again. Her journey is personal as well as professional.
Interspersed with Meta’s modern quest to reunite the sonata is Otylie’s WWII devastating account of how the sonata came to be separated in Nazi-occupied Prague.
I loved this novel as a writer, historian and musician.
Music as personal and political
Bradford Morrow’s understanding of the power and meaning of music is masterful. Otylie’s father, a soldier and collector of music manuscripts, tells her that all wars begin with music. After the death of her mother, Otylie’s father heads off to fight in WWI and never returns.
Otylie swears she will never sing or play music again. Secretly, however, she watches over the unsigned manuscript her father left her. While doubtful of his claims about its origins, she has enough faith that she risks her own life and the lives of those she loves to protect the sonata manuscript from Nazi destruction. While the culture of her homeland is being destroyed around her, she manages to preserve this one treasure by splitting it into three parts and fleeing the country.
Meta’s fight to reunite the manuscript in the modern day echoes the same themes. This is a personal matter – for Meta it is almost a spiritual quest she feels bound to. But for those who believe the manuscript segments should not be allowed to leave Prague again, the matter is also deeply political.
It’s the eternal question – who, after all, can truly own art? Is it the creator, the purchaser, or a whole nation?
Exquisite literature, yet highly accessible
This is easy-to-read literature at its best. The writing is so lyrical, so exquisitely insightful, yet so accessible. Mostly I allowed the words to just wash over me but a few times there were passages so wonderful that I had to sit back and just savour them.
Rich in historical detail
I’ve read widely about WWII, but nothing I’ve come across has revealed the history of Prague is so much detail. At times the novel verges on providing too much detail, but for the most part Morrow has managed to strike a balance between story and history. The investigative nature of the story is on his side – Meta soaks up all the knowledge she can in her quest to trace the story of the manuscript.
Prague was crushed once by Nazi rule which sought to obliterate her culture. She was then ‘liberated’ by the Soviet Union and her culture oppressed by communist rule for another 40 years. It’s a depressing tale, but the modern story is wonderful – Meta arrives in modern-day Prague. Post-communist rule, the country is resurrecting its own unique culture. She meets young musicians, artists and writers who struggle against poverty to reinvigorate the modern artistic landscape.
The Prague Sonata is now available from all good bookstores.
Disclosure: I received a copy from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.
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