Music for the Third Ear

Susan Schwartz Senstad, Author
Susan Schwartz Senstad, Author Picador USA $22 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-26621-9
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-552-77895-4
Hardcover - 254 pages - 978-0-552-99918-2
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-312-28776-4
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The harsh reality of the Yugoslav wars is brought home to a Norwegian couple in this searing first novel. Middle-aged Mette and Hans Olav Kaldstad live in bourgeois comfort. Mette, the daughter of Jewish survivors of Bergen-Belsen, carries within her a certain vulnerable estrangement from Norway's Lutheran norms: her dearest wish, to conceive a child, has never come true. The couple's quiet existence is interrupted when they take a refugee Bosnian couple into their home: Zheljka Nadarevic is a Croatian Catholic, who, during the war, was gang-raped by Serbian soldiers; her husband, Mesud, endured torture in a prison camp. Zheljka's grief didn't end with the rapes--she gave birth to a son whom she named, out of shame and bitterness, Zero. Managing to flee Bosnia, she and Zero went to Italy, where Mesud later tracked her down, asking her to choose between him and the boy, whom she then gave up for adoption. The couple is uncomfortable in the Kaldstads' house, and they soon leave--but Mette, unsatisfied with the whole episode, goes to visit Zheljka, with whom she feels an affinity, and learns about her ordeal--and about Zero. Mette's unfulfilled maternal impulses focus on the boy; upon intercepting a letter from his adoptive father, she plans to bring him to Norway. The novel, which deftly merges the personal with the political, unfolds through brief episodes, often told in flashback, from the characters' varying perspectives. Without becoming didactic, Senstad examines the poisonous consequences of wartime atrocities--the Holocaust, the Yugoslav conflict--upon the lives of individuals thrown together in their aftermath. Senstad's intimate take on large-scale tragedy is indicated by a touching jacket photograph of a solemn child. (Feb.)
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