Sunday, May 24, 2009

TSS - Review - Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson

Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson
published 02/09
276 pages
purchase from Amazon or Powell's

Synopsis from publisher:

A haunting novel of loss, love, and human connection from the author of Astrid & Veronika.

In Sonata for Miriam, two events occur that will change composer Adam Anker's life forever. Embarking on a journey that ranges from New Zealand to Poland, and then Sweden, Anker not only uncovers his parents' true fate during World War II, but he also finally faces the consequences of an impossible choice he was forced to make twenty years before — a choice that changed the trajectory of his life.

My thoughts:

At the outset I have to say that I don't think this book will appeal to every reader. It is not an easy read - sometimes ambiguous, dreamlike, poetic. Several events are awfully convenient - and some events are really not explained that well, or at all, leaving the reader wondering what actually just happened.

That being said, I found myself really enjoying this novel. I was grabbed by Adam's voice from the opening sentences, and fell into the rhythm of the narration. I found the dueling narratives - Adam's search for the truth about his family, and his journey back to Cecilia - equally interesting, and while I didn't always understand concretely what was going on, it seemed to fit the mood of the novel. I think memories are often like that - not necessarily detailed or specific, but rather an impression of a person or place that stays with you. That's the way this book felt, and it worked for me.

Of course, the beautiful prose was a joy to read. I wanted to keep reading to see what happened next, but also just to read the words that Olsson wrote. Here are a couple of examples:

"I can take one individual note out of the music I am trying to write at the moment, and it could belong anywhere. Yet where it sits, where I have placed it, it follows what came before and leads to what comes after. Without it the whole would not be as it is...When you listen to the finished composition, or when you go about living your life, the individual components join to make a whole that can so easily be taken for granted. But it is not until you become aware of the parts that you can begin to understand the miracle."

"Smells and sounds and tastes are known to have the power to evoke memories. But I had never before understood the enormous power of tangible objects in this respect. I looked at the clip on my palm, and memories poured forth with almost unbearable intensity. Almost unbearable. No. Either things are bearable or they are not. There is no almost. And these memories were certainly bearable. I welcomed them. I reveled in their blinding intensity, the smarting pain of the sweet moments as they flooded back."

"I never knew how to tell you. If I had found the words, perhaps everything might have turned out different. But now, when so unexpectedly and so very undeservedly I have been given this opportunity, I will try to explain. No, that is not the word. There are no explanations. But I will try to talk. Try to break the silence. When you come, I will try to find the words."

Sonata for Miriam is a moody, beautiful novel, and the right reader will find it an unforgettable experience.

Finished: 5/15/09
Source: Penguin books
Rating: 8/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

Marie at The Boston Bibliophile
Lisa at Books on the Brain
Swapna at S. Krishna's Books


Margaret said...

I enjoyed Astrid and Veronika and this one looks as though I would like it too. Memories are certainly shifting and impressionistic and what one person remembers about a situation often differs from what others remember.

JoAnn said...

This is an author I've been meaning to try. Thanks for the review!

Wendy said...

I've got this one on my wishlist - glad to see you liked it!

Literary Feline said...

I picked this one up on a recent book shopping spree. I'm excited about reading it. I haven't read the author's earlier book, but I know quite a few people liked it. Hopefully someday I'll get to that one as well. Thanks for the great review!

bermudaonion said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this. The reviews for it seem to be all over the place, so I haven't decided if I want to read it or not.

Anonymous said...

I've read many good reviews of this book and it's already on my wishlist. Glad you liked it too. Those are some beautiful passages.

Zibilee said...

I really liked the excerpts you provided from the book. It sounds like an interesting read.

Elizabeth said...

Margaret - I thought Olsson did such a good job of conveying the shifting nature of memories.

JoAnn - I hope you try her out. This was a good one.

Wendy - I hope you enjoy it, too.

Literary Feline - good choice - I hope you like it.

bermuda - I know. I was a little nervous, since I've seen review that went both ways. It was good for me.

Violet - there were so many beautiful passages. I had a hard time narrowing it down to the ones I chose.

Zibilee - It was definitely interesting!

Linda said...

Just a humble thank you from me in freezing Auckland. My book is out of my hands and you readers are allowed to with it what you like. So, I am just grateful that it landed in your hands.

Linda Olsson