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The Gustav Sonata' by Rose Tremain.
Rose Tremain is a very well-known and highly-celebrated writer. She is always meticulous in her research and writes on a range of subjects. We thought the book was beautifully written and found her style easy to read. One of the author's strengths is that she doesn't judge but directs us to ideas to think about and situations to imagine.
Set in Switzerland the book is divided into three periods and the first part of the book evokes the atmosphere of that country's position during the war; the difficulty of personal, moral and political neutrality. Part of the book was inspired by the true story of Paul Grueninger, police chief of St Gallen just before the second world war. Grueninger sacrificed his prospects and career to offer sanctuary to Jewish refugees fleeing from Austria after Switzerland had officially closed its borders. Gustav's father is modelled on this man and his situation but in the book the father also loses his life. His bitter wife refers to him as a hero but cannot forgive him for showing the moral courage that wrecked her family's fortune. The central relationship is between Gustav and his friend, Anton, a precocious, gifted musician and it is this that gives the book its title.
To quote one member - 'This story is clearly written in Sonata form, its three parts reflecting the theme of a growing relationship between Gustav and the musical Anton. But it is only in part three that chapter titles refer to its musical theme. Here we have 'Three Movements' (....) 'Interlude' (....) and 'Allegro Vivace'.
The novel painfully draws on difficult relationships and a lack of communication. Full of contrasts: the affluent and the non-affluent, the needy and the giving, the supportive and disinterested. Tremain's characters are always skilfully drawn and develop naturally to allow us to empathise with them.
Overall a resounding success!