Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson

In her second novel, Linda Olsson explores the themes of love, loss, choices, and memories from the past. A single decision can change a person's life and the lives of those who come after.Even inaction or silence has repercussions. One morning Adam Anker's daughter, Miriam, had urged him to "Get out, Dad. Have an adventure. It's Saturday!" Little did he know that this simple act would forever impact his world. Adam's thoughts in retrospect: " If I had listened more carefully, would I have been able to hear more? Could I have heard it in the lingering sweetness of the final bars of the music that was playing in the background? Seen it in the light that washed over my daughter's face? In the graceful movement of her hand? Tasted it in the bitter flavors of the coffee?
Should I have known that this scene, in its everyday triviality, would become the shimmering crescendo of the memories on which I now sustain a sort of life?"
When Adam Anker visits the Holocaust Gallery in Auckland Domain Museum, his entire life is changed and a course of action set in motion to come to terms with Adam's past. Adam sees a picture of a man named Adam Lipski which sends his senses reeling. Elusive memories flit in and out of his brain. Lipski, the name he was born with but no longer carries, sends him on a search for family and answers to the past.

This journey takes him to Krakow, Poland and then on to Sweden. In Krakow he tracks down Adam Lipski's sister, Clara, and from her he gets more pieces of the puzzle. These pieces give him a better sense of who he is now and why his childhood was the way it was. This part of his search also introduces him to more key people from the past. These characters are an integral part of the story.

The next leg of the journey takes him to Sweden to meet up again with Miriam's mother, Cecelia, whom he has not seen for almost twenty years. Before Adam arrives in Sweden, the narrative is picked up by Cecelia and told from her perspective, we see many more pieces of the past and how they reflected on her relationship with Adam. In his journey Adam finds much more than he set out to find originally. All the pieces come together to make some semblance of resolution and a feeling of peace. This is but a brief synopsis of Adam's personal journey. The writing in this novel is simply exquisite. The images evoked are so clear. This is one of the most visually descriptive books I have read in a long time and I can't remember a novel where the inner most thoughts and feelings of the characters are so intimately expressed.

Ms. Olssen has a deep understanding of the human emotions and this uncanny ability is ably depicted in her writing. She not only lets us see into the characters' heads, but creates a mood and tone to the novel that is almost haunting. The way Adam's memories are revealed is like looking through a gossamer curtain rippling in the breeze. A little bit is revealed as the curtain moves, even then it is not quite wholly grasped, but fleeting and elusive. A wonderful example of this style of writing taken from the very beginning:

" I can take one individual note out of the music I am trying to write at the moment, and it could belong anywhere. Yet, where it sits, where I have placed it, it follows what came before and leads to what comes after. Without it, the whole would not be as it is. " And

"It applies to music, to art, and to life itself, I think. When you listen to the finished composition, or when you go about living your life, the individual components join to make a whole that can so easily be taken for granted. But it is not until you become aware of the parts that you can begin to understand the miracle. It took me almost a lifetime to start searching for the sounds, the notes that make my life's music. And it required a sacrifice so enormous that it did away with all that had made my life meaningful. But in the total silence that came afterward, I finally heard a first single note, and others slowly followed."

It is extremely easy to see how this novel entranced me from the beginning. When I finished the last page, I could have gone back to the beginning and started to savor the beautiful prose all over again.I think this would make a wonderful book club selection. Highly, highly recommended. 5***** I certainly plan to read her first novel, Astrid and Veronika, published in 2007. Wanda wrote a beautiful review of A&V back in February. To read her thoughts, see here.

A very sincere thank you to Gabrielle Gantz at Penguin Group for sending me this extraordinary novel and introducing me to this wonderful writer.

About the author (from back cover page):

Linda Olsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2003, she won the Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition. Linda has lived in Kenya, Singapore, Britain, and Japan before settling in Auckland, New Zealand, where she lives today. Author's web page can be found here.


  1. I have this in my mini TBR and can't wait to get to it!

  2. Excellent review! It's obvious that it really touched you. I've heard many good comments about this book. I'll have to read it when I get the chance.

  3. Incredible review. Girl, you MADE me want this one!

  4. This sounds wonderful. Thanks for the great review!

  5. Oh my goodness...that is beautiful writing! That sounds like such a great book I think I'm definitely going to have to add that one to my list...thanks for the review.

  6. Been waiting for this review ... it looks like I've found another fan of Linda Olsson's gorgeous prose! I fell under her spell reading Astrid and Veronika (you can find my review here) and was delighted to learn she had another book out. Yours is the first review I've read for 'Sonata...'; thank you for giving your opinion and just enough info to let me know this one is a must read!

  7. Kaye,
    Your review was beautiful and so eloquent!! And you are so right about her writing. I'm loving this book right now. I have her first book which I picked up at my library book sale last year. Can't wait to read that one too!!


  8. This one's on my wish list. I'm glad to see it's good.

  9. I loved your review!! I just posted mine and linked yours there. I picked up A&V last year at a library sale for 50 cents and now I can't wait to read it!!


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