Self-Portrait with Russian Piano

Wolf Wondratschek, trans. from the German by Marshall Yarbrough. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-26049-1
German writer Wondratschek, best known for his 1969 novel When the Day Still Started With a Bullet Wound, returns with a tender character study of a wry and jaundiced former piano virtuoso. The unnamed narrator, a young Austrian man, has a chance meeting with Suvorin, a once-renowned Russian pianist, in a café in Vienna. They develop a yearslong routine of meeting at a nearby Italian restaurant. Suvorin reminisces about musicians he has known; his wife, who died in a tragic accident; and his favorite composers (especially Beethoven, whom he admires for his fearless individualism as much as for his musical genius). The narrator, whose own childhood dream of becoming an opera singer was thwarted by his engineer father, seems the perfect audience for the idiosyncratic Suvorin, who deplores applause and cherishes silence. When the narrator returns to the café after a year and a half, he’s greeted by a new staff, none of whom have heard of the pianist, leading him to unsettling metaphysical thoughts that Suvorin might have emerged from his imagination, or was a ghost. The author writes about music with intimacy and tenderness, and peppers his narrative with delightful anecdotes of the foibles of high-art celebrities. Wondratschek’s deeply felt meditation on the joys and sorrows of a life in music delivers the goods. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 07/13/2020
Release date: 09/01/2020
Genre: Fiction
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