Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Weight of a Piano

Title:  The Weight of a Piano
Author:  Chris Cander
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2019. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0525654674 / 978-0525654674

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Hidden in dense forests high in the Romanian mountains, where the winters were especially cold and long, were spruce trees that would be made into pianos:  exquisite instruments famous for the warmth of their tone and beloved by the likes of Schumann and Liszt."

Favorite Quote:  "I've heard it said of immigrants like my parents that they crossed the wide ocean to pursue the American Dream, that fabled happy existence characterized by prosperity for those who work hard and lead lives of integrity. It has always seemed to me, though, that you need to keep your eyes wide open to achieve that kind of life, don't you? A dream is only a dream while you sleep, when your eyes are closed to outside forces. The way I see it, you can't work hard and be a good person with your eyes closed. That means the American Dream is not a dream at all. It's a wish. You can make a wish with your eyes closed, but you open them after you blow out the candles. With your eyes wide open, you labor to lead an honest life while you wait to see if your wish will come true."

I am not familiar with the name Blüthner. The company is a piano manufacturer and considered one of the four powerhouses of the industry. The history of the company does indeed go back to the 1800s to the Romanian woods outside of Leipzig, Germany. This is the story of one Blüthner piano and the two girls who owned it decades apart.

Katya, a young girl, is bequeathed the piano in her childhood. Katya grows up and becomes an accomplished pianist. Marriage and a child enter her life. The piano is forever there as her comfort and her love. Life and the world changes. It is the 1960s in the Soviet Union. Communisms threatens Katya's way of life and her family, particularly since they are Jewish. Her husband makes a dramatic choice. Life and the world changes again. At every turn, the piano or the dream of her piano is the heart of Katya - her joy and her solace.

In 2012, Clara Lundy owns the piano. It is memory of her father and of all the losses in her life. The emotional scars of her childhood send her from relationship to relationship. Yet, she is able to settle nowhere and with no one. The people around her are true friends, seeing her through everything. Unlike Katya, Clara never was able to play the piano. Yet, she hangs on to it.

A broken relationship, an injury, a move, and dire financial need lead Clara to post the piano for sale. She gets an immediate buyer but then has second thoughts. She is not quite ready to let go of the past.  The buyer has his own connection to a Blüthner piano. That connection is quickly discovered in the story.

The parallel stories of Katya, Clara, and the one who wishes for Clara's piano are all stories of loss and of the past and of coming to terms with the past. Each character takes a different direction in dealing with the "weight" of their past. The title, in that sense, is both literal and metaphorical.  A piano is a large, weighty object. For each character, the piano also represents the emotional weight of the past.  For Katya, the piano represents her dreams and all that she could have been.  For Clara, the piano represents her disappointments and all that she could never leave behind.

Can you sees where this is going? Absolutely. The connections and the parallels are too clearly drawn. To me, this book is a forced and contrived story. Too many circumstantial things align to bring this story together in too fitted a way. The emotional scars of both main characters are drawn in parallel, if only to contrast with their eventual decision in how to deal with it. The story loses its sense of emotion and its sense of reality. Mind you, I realize that all fiction is a created and contrived story. I know I am reading fiction, but I want to be taken on a "real" journey. That is the power of fiction. However, in this one, the seams show if you will.

The most beautiful part of this book is the opening chapter, and that feels the most real. I was in the forests of Romania, watching that piano come to life. I wish the rest of the book lived up to that opening.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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