Benita Eisler, Author . Knopf $23 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-40945-
Biographer Eisler, whose last book was on Byron, has moved to much more heavily trodden ground with this one, and it is to her credit that she manages to make the brief arc of the exiled Polish composer's life so affecting. She begins with a journalistic close-up of Chopin's funeral, which ironically was a lavish affair, though in his last months of sickness he was neglected by most of his society friends. Eisler then proceeds to the familiar story of his triumphant arrival on the Paris scene and the swift liaison with the notorious George Sand. Wisely skipping over the couple's disastrous and endlessly dramatized winter together on Majorca, Eisler focuses her well-researched attention on the closing years of the composer's life. She has an excellent chapter on Chopin's unhappy time in England and Scotland; and she writes with real vigor and sympathy of the byzantine family politics that embroiled the Sand household, both at the country retreat Nohant and in Paris, where the novelist turned away from her daughter Solange and rested her hopes on her far less worthy son, Maurice. In the end it was Solange who comforted the dying composer after Sand had ruthlessly thrust him from her life. Chopin's failings—his rigid conservatism and snobbishness, his political timidity and frequent financial selfishness—are made clear; but Eisler, deeply sympathetic to the quality of the music, also shows that he never ceased to struggle, despite perpetual illness, to expand his extraordinary gift into areas where no musician had previously ventured. The book adds little to the sum of Chopin scholarship, but is a skillfully written and mercifully brief overview that hits the right notes.
Reviewed on: 02/03/2003