Summary and book reviews of The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

The Gustav Sonata

by Rose Tremain

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain X
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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About this Book

Book Summary

A breathtakingly radiant story of an unlikely childhood friendship that survives the test of time.

Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem only a distant echo. An only child, he lives alone with Emilie, the mother he adores but who treats him with bitter severity. He begins an intense friendship with a Jewish boy his age, talented and mercurial Anton Zweibel, a budding concert pianist. The novel follows Gustav's family, tracing the roots of his mother's anti-Semitism and its impact on her son and his beloved friend.

Moving backward to the war years and the painful repercussions of an act of conscience, and forward through the lives and careers of the two men, one who becomes a hotel owner, the other a concert pianist, The Gustav Sonata explores the passionate love of childhood friendship as it is lost, transformed, and regained over a lifetime. It is a powerful and deeply moving addition to the beloved oeuvre of one of our greatest contemporary novelists.

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&#...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Rose Tremain is a tremendous writer and her literary powers are displayed to great effect in this novel. She is a master at leaving gaps for the reader to fill in and really feel what is happening. Although I enjoyed the conclusion to the story of Gustav and his friend Anton, I felt that there were not enough scenes of them together, particularly in the section when they are adults, to provide the emotional punch Tremain was aiming for.   (Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

Full Review (505 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The great strength of Tremain's writing is her brilliant, uncanny ability to capture the interior life of a child and to celebrate the triumphs of the many older characters populating the final, redemptive portion of the novel as they 'become the people always should have been.'

Booklist
Starred Review. An extraordinarily gifted writer, Tremain illuminates her characters' lives with care and understated elegance. She finds great meaning in both world-changing events and smaller, quotidian moments

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Spanning the decades from 1937 to 2002, Tremain's novel is less sprawling than it is deeply intimate, a soul-stirring song about friendship, conscience, and love.

Author Blurb Ian McEwan
The Gustav Sonata is beautifully rendered, and magnificent in its scope. It glows with mastery.

Author Blurb Salman Rushdie
The Gustav Sonata is a work of extreme and painful beauty, the story of one profound love amid many failed relationships, and of the conflict between passion and self-control. Rose Tremain is one of the very finest British novelists, and deserves, with this brilliant novel, to reach a wide new audience.

Author Blurb Neel Mukherjee
The Gustav Sonata - beautiful, musical, tender - is the latest novel from a writer who commands her readers' attention and affections like no one else. It is an immensely moving book, and written with such crystalline clarity and precision that it will take your breath away.

Reader Reviews

Paula J.

Rose Tremaine at her best
Tremaine us one of my favorite authors. She digs in deep with her characters and we live their troubles, thoughts, and triumphs. Exquisite reading to lose yourself in.

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Beyond the Book

Struwwelpeter

In The Gustav Sonata, Gustav and Anton share a love of the German children's book, Struwwelpeter, which was written by Dr Heinrich Hoffmann in 1844. NPR noted that Struwwelpeter "set the stage for children's book classics like Where the Wild Things Are and the beloved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Struwwelpeter There have been countless editions of this collection of frightening and cautionary stories, delivered in jaunty rhyming couplets, and it has been translated into 35 languages. Most striking are the drawings — the famous children's book author Maurice Sendak called Struwwelpeter "graphically, one of the most beautiful books in the world." English readers may be more familiar with the translated name for Struwwelpeter, ...

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