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The story takes place in a small town in Switzerland. Gustav and Anton are to be lifelong friends. They meet on their first day of kindergarten, with Anton in tears about his first day away from home and Gustav summoned by the teacher to keep him company. Gustav's mother is strict and unfeeling. Gustav is used to her unpleasant ways and doesn't take special notice of them. Anton is destined to become a concert pianist, showing signs of prodigality at a young age. Their childhood takes place in the 50s. Anton is Jewish with a banker father and doting mother. Gustav's mother holds a grudge against Jews, claiming she lost her husband because he tried to help their cause during the Holocaust. This novel does indeed feel like a sonata, with intimate portraits of each of the characters, going backward and forward in time, from the 30s and a newfound vocation for Gustav's mother, to the early 21st century, when both men have a loaded past separately and together. The characters come in and out of contact, in a kind of gentle dance. Rose Tremain's beautiful writing shines in this book, as it has done in the other five novels I've read by her in recent years. I learned a little bit about Switzerland, where nationalism was one of the core values and played a large part in helping that small county remain neutral during European conflicts. Loyalty is one of the themes explored here in depth, and once again, Tremain demonstrates a beautiful sensitivity to what makes humans tick. Highly recommended—one I will revisit for sure. Excellent narration by Derek Perkins on the audio version.
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