Excerpt from The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Gustav Sonata

by Rose Tremain

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain X
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Mutti
Matzlingen, Switzerland, 1947

At the age of five, Gustav Perle was certain of only one thing: he loved his mother.

Her name was Emilie, but everybody addressed her as Frau Perle. (In Switzerland, at that time, after the war, people were formal. You might pass a lifetime without knowing the first name of your nearest neighbour.) Gustav called Emilie Perle 'Mutti'. She would be 'Mutti' all his life, even when the name began to sound babyish to him: his Mutti, his alone, a thin woman with a reedy voice and straggly hair and a hesitant way of moving from room to room in the small apartment, as if afraid of discovering, between one space and the next, objects – or even people – she had not prepared herself to encounter.

The second-floor apartment, reached by a stone staircase too grand for the building, overlooked the River Emme in the town of Matzlingen, in an area of Switzerland known as Mittelland, between the Jura and the Alps. On the wall of Gustav's tiny room was a map of Mittelland, which displayed itself as hilly and green and populated by cattle and waterwheels and little shingled churches. Sometimes, Emilie would take Gustav's hand and guide it to the north bank of the river where Matzlingen was marked in. The symbol for Matzlingen was a wheel of cheese with one slice cut out of it. Gustav could remember asking Emilie who had eaten the slice that had been cut out. But Emilie had told him not to waste her time with silly questions.

On an oak sideboard in the living room, stood a photograph of Erich Perle, Gustav's father, who had died before Gustav was old enough to remember him.

Every year, on August 1st, Swiss National Day, Emilie set posies of gentian flowers round the photograph and made Gustav kneel down in front of it and pray for his father's soul. Gustav didn't understand what a soul was. He could see only that Erich was a good-looking man with a confident smile, wearing a police uniform with shiny buttons. So Gustav decided to pray for the buttons – that they would keep their shine, and that his father's proud smile wouldn't fade as the years passed.

'He was a hero,' Emilie would remind her son every year. 'I didn't understand it at first, but he was. He was a good man in a rotten world. If anybody tells you otherwise, they're wrong.' Sometimes, with her eyes closed and her hands pressed together, she would mumble other things she remembered about Erich. One day, she said, 'It was so unfair. Justice was never done. And it never will be done.'


Wearing a smock, with his short hair neatly combed, Gustav was taken each morning to the local kindergarten. At the door of the schoolhouse, he would stand absolutely still, watching Emilie walk away down the path. He never cried. He could often feel a cry trying to come up from his heart, but he always forced it down. Because this was how Emilie had told him to behave in the world. He had to master himself. The world was alive with wrongdoing, she said, but Gustav had to emulate his father who, when wronged, had behaved like an honourable man; he had mastered himself. In this way, Gustav would be prepared for the uncertainties to come. Because even in Switzerland, where the war hadn't trespassed, nobody yet knew how the future would unfold.

'So you see,' she said, 'you have to be like Switzerland. Do you understand me? You have to hold yourself together and be courageous, stay separate and strong. Then, you will have the right kind of life.'

Gustav had no idea what 'the right kind of life' was. All he knew was the life he had, the one with Emilie in the secondfloor apartment, with the map of Mittelland on his bedroom wall and Emilie's stockings drying on a string above the iron bath. He wanted them always to be there, those stockings. He wanted the taste and texture of the knödel they ate for supper never to change. Even the smell of cheese in Emilie's hair, which he didn't particularly like – he knew this had to linger there because Emilie's job at the Matzlingen Cheese Co-operative was the thing that kept them alive.

Excerpted from The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain. Copyright © 2016 by Rose Tremain. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Struwwelpeter

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Story of Arthur Truluv
    The Story of Arthur Truluv
    by Elizabeth Berg
    Elizabeth Berg's heartwarming novel scored an an impressive 4.4 average rating from the 48 members ...
  • Book Jacket: The Last Ballad
    The Last Ballad
    by Wiley Cash
    Ella May WigginsA hundred years ago or so, farming land west of Charlotte, North Carolina was given over to giant ...
  • Book Jacket: Future Home of the Living God
    Future Home of the Living God
    by Louise Erdrich
    Louise Erdrich began Future Home of the Living God in 2002, set it aside, and picked it up again in ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

At once a love story, a history lesson and a beautifully written tale of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Strangers in Budapest
    by Jessica Keener

    Strong characters and a riveting plot combine in this psychological thriller set in Budapest.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Anagrams

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E Dog H I D

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.