A musical mystery set against the backdrop of a nation shattered by war and loss.
How many piano sonatas did Ludwig van Beethoven write? A music student might be quick to say 32—but that disallows the possibility that there’s one hidden somewhere or one by Mozart or Haydn that no one has ever seen before. That’s the conceit that Morrow (The Forgers, 2014, etc.) spins with this sonically rich novel, in which a Czech woman, Otylie Bartošová, only steps ahead of the German invaders in 1939, divides her inheritance among family and friends—namely, an anonymous Classical-era score given to her by her father and now split up into three, rendering it essentially without value to the avaricious Nazis. On immigrating to America, Otylie loses sight and hope of the treasure—part of which resurfaces years later in contemporary New York, beguiling a musicologist named Meta Taverner, who “knew it was impossible she had stumbled on another Beethoven Werk ohne Opuszahl in deepest, darkest Queens” but presses on, having now found a new source of meaning in a life burdened with quiet tragedies. She goes to Prague, seeking clues. Morrow delights in local color, in the “home of the Golem and crazy Rudolf’s equally crazy alchemists, not to mention Kafka’s bug,” though he works in an intriguing counterintuition: who’s to say that the manuscript isn’t in Prague, Texas, or Prague, Nebraska? The story, which runs a touch too long, takes a conventional whodunit twist with the introduction of a competing musicologist who wants the glory (and money) for himself even as Meta hits walls that induce a crisis of confidence in her abilities—and therein lies something of a leitmotiv. Yet, with the help of a dogged journalist and other allies, Meta works her way toward a hard-won resolution. As she says, “Sometimes in life what’s broken can’t be put back together,” to which Otylie replies, “Or maybe it was never truly broken at all.”
An elegant foray into music and memory.