The Prague Sonata is a bit of history, mystery, romance, and quest. It tells us the story of Meta and her quest to unite a manuscript that was divided in 1938 as the Nazis marched into Prague.
Meta was once an aspiring world-class pianist but an accident took that future away from her. She adjusted her ambitions and moved on, settling for the much smaller ambition of being a musicologist and giving piano lessons. But life had more interesting plans for her. A dying woman who heard Meta play gave her an old musical score and a quest, to reunite that score with the two other pieces that were split up in hopes that at least some part of it would survive the Occupation.
It sounds an impossible task, go to Prague and cast about for a trail that started in 1938 and went cold by 1945. Would you give up your studies and students to set out on a seemingly impossible search with scant information to a country where you don’t speak the language? Would you persist despite nothing but dead ends and discouragement? Meta does and I think that is why it is important that author Bradford Morrow’s decision to write her as someone who dreamed big and had those dreams torn away is crucial to the success of Meta as a character. Without that devastating loss, her persistence would not make sense.
If I were a listmaker and made a list of my favorite books, Morrow’s Giovanni’s Gift and Trinity Fields would be on it. This made me eager to read The Prague Sonata. I did enjoy the story and Morrow’s writing, though it won’t make that same list. The plot is interesting, though the machinations of a famed Czech music historian are over-explained. Wittman’s just a few steps short of Snidely Whiplash, recounting his plots and motivations to co-conspirators and his opposition, Meta’s mentor Mandelbaum. He is the evil mastermind who keeps talking to the hero instead of running him into the buzzsaw, thereby failing and ensuring the series will continue.
Morrow includes a lot of prosaic details in this book. This weighted it down for me, though it also gave it so much verisimilitude I had to look up lost sonatas and verify it was fiction. The central plot device, the idea of a lost sonata by one of the greats of classical music is all too possible. I know it the inclusion of petty details, the packing, unpacking, the daily habits are the things that made me wonder if this was true. It felt reported, not imagined. That’s how talented Morrow is, but for me, even though I understand why that level of detail is included, I sometimes longed for the story to move along.
One of my big problems with the story was a bit of the irrationality of the initial choice to divide up the score among three people so the Nazis would never get the whole of it, in hopes someday it might be found and united. Why didn’t she just hide it and tell the other two where it was hidden. That would mean three chances that the information would survive the war, three chances to find it and bring it back to the world. Instead, she divided it among three people going from three chances to survive the war to three chance to be lost. I appreciate that she kicks herself for that poor reasoning.
I received an e-galley of The Prague Sonata from the publisher through NetGalley.
Below, proof that the premise of the novel is not too fantastical .