Ten years after a famous composer’s death, four musicians are brought together for a concert memorializing the strange man who touched each of their lives in surprising ways.
Late one evening, two violinists with a complicated history, a conductor struggling to live up to his father’s memory, and an elderly maid with a secret attend a tense rehearsal in a Berlin concert hall. As the novel unfolds, Catalan writer Busquets introduces us to each of their voices: there’s Maria, an Andalusian maid who cared for the enigmatic composer Karl T. in his Barcelona apartment for more than 40 years; Anna, a prima donna violinist who plays with virtuosic skill but no heart; Anna’s former violin teacher Teresa, suffering from the wounds of a tragic romance; and Mark, Karl T.’s son, separated from his father by the harsh realities of the Berlin Wall. Their overlapping perspectives provide fractured glimpses of Karl T., the German composer who, even in death, holds them each in thrall. Little do they know that their lives and careers are also bound together by a single mistake: the loss of Karl T.’s prized possession, a beautiful violin that “made magic...as if it held the sun inside it.” In contrast to the complex emotional lives of the characters, Busquets' writing (and Lethem’s translation) lends a fairy-tale flatness to the tightly woven mystery, leading the reader through a maze of intrigue, loss, and romance with clear, brisk prose. Busquets’ dreamy tale is the more interesting for its attention to female competition, class, linguistic barriers, and the specter of fascism that haunts both Spain and Eastern Europe. Her novel of music and fate confirms a universal suspicion: “sometimes it seems we know everything about somebody and, really, we know nothing, or very little.”
Combining elements of the folk tale, mystery, and romance, Busquets’ novel is bound to please readers with its new take on Old World charm—and the secrets we keep even from ourselves.