In Butler’s debut novel, a pianist meets the love of her life but must let him go.
In California, aging actress Lily attends a performance of the talented pianist Katherine Konova, and reflects upon her connection to this red-haired beauty. Decades ago in Russia, Katherine’s poverty-stricken parents, Irina and Maxim, were deeply in love, and both had jobs at a factory where Yazov (nicknamed “The Bull”) was foreman. Irina and Max were convinced that they couldn’t have children, but when Irina falls ill on the job, it’s discovered that she’s pregnant. A few months after Max’s death in a freak accident, Irina marries Yazov, although she doesn’t love him. The child, Katherine, shows a talent for the piano; at 17, she’s accepted at the Moscow Conservatory where she meets Vitaly Prohorov, a married professor whose instruction wasn’t confined to music. After a romantic relationship, the two eventually separate, and Katherine marries and has children. In the present day, writer Daniel Adler has mystical visions of a girl with fiery red hair, and knows he must find her. He has a strained relationship with his mother, feeling much closer to his stepfather, Hans. Daniel attends Goethe University in Frankfurt and embarks on a disastrous relationship with a suicidal woman named Sophie, which doesn’t feed his soul. Impressed by Daniel’s blog, Lily writes Daniel and invites him to America, where he will meet and attempt to win the woman of his dreams. This novel tells a mellow, unassuming story of almost-instantaneous passion between a mature woman and a younger man. The story engagingly reveals layers of information, past and present, amidst a recurring melody of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” It also provides a sense of life in Russia under the shadow of the KGB: At any moment, an innocent citizen could be snatched and accused of wrongdoing, an ordeal that Katherine at one point experiences. Her present-day affair in California plays out against a backdrop of family secrets, which generates suspense throughout. The narrative ends on a dissonant yet hopeful note, with potential for a sequel.
A slow-building romantic novel that focuses on the vital bond between lovers.