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Appassionata
     

Appassionata

by Eva Hoffman
 

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Selected as one of Oprah.com’s 20 Tantalizing Beach Reads
Selected as a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Isabel Merton is a renowned concert pianist, whose performances are marked by a rare intensity of feeling. At the height of her career, she feels increasingly torn between the compelling musical realm 

Overview

Selected as one of Oprah.com’s 20 Tantalizing Beach Reads
Selected as a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Isabel Merton is a renowned concert pianist, whose performances are marked by a rare intensity of feeling. At the height of her career, she feels increasingly torn between the compelling musical realm she deeply inhabits, and her fragmented itinerant artist’s life, with its frequent flights, anonymous hotels, and brief, arbitrary encounters. Away from her New York home on a European tour, Isabel meets a political exile from a war-torn country, a man driven by a rankling sense of injustice and a powerful desire to vindicate his cause and avenge his people. As their paths cross in several cities, they are drawn to each other both by their differences and their seemingly parallel passions–until a menacing incident throws her into a creative crisis, and forces her to reevaluate her lover's actions, and her own motives. In this story of contemporary love and conflict, Hoffman illuminates the currents and undercurrents of our time, as she explores the luminous and dark faces of romanticism, and those perennial human yearnings, frustrations, and moral choices that can lead to destructiveness, or the richest art.

Editorial Reviews

Sylvia Brownrigg
How do the educated citizens of the privileged West understand and respond to the murky wars on their borders? Is it better to be rational and detached on political matters or driven by pure passion - even if that passion is hatred? Eva Hoffman’s eloquent new novel poses these and related questions, while also presenting a nuanced portrait of a musician deeply engaged in the complexities of her art.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

As a child, Hoffman studied piano and dreamed of performing professionally until she redirected her ambition toward writing; here she wields her expertise in both with dazzling success. Acclaimed American pianist Isabel Merton, on tour in Europe, becomes romantically entangled with Anzor Islikhanov, a semiofficial representative of Chechnya who follows her around Europe. They are both enthralled to personal passions-hers for music, his for his ravaged country-and their relationship intensifies with thrilling inevitability as a Chechen radical leader (with whom Anzor is not-so-secretly sympathetic) manipulates Anzor's allegiance to his homeland and drives a wedge between him and Isabel. Hoffman's prose is reliably gorgeous, and while the narrative lends itself nicely to sharp commentary and observations on politics, power and the role of the United States in a changing world, what's memorable is the way Hoffman maps the intersection of art, history and man's striving for meaning. (May)

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Library Journal

The award-winning Hoffman, former senior editor at the New York Times and the author of several highly regarded works of nonfiction (e.g., Exit into History), has now written a compelling novel that charts the inner life of her heroine, Isabel Merton. Isabel is an accomplished pianist, and on one of her many tours abroad, she encounters the mysterious Chechen rebel Anzor. At first, she is drawn to him and feels sympathy for his cause, and soon enough she enters into an affair with him. They meet clandestinely in various European cities, but as she comes to learn more about his mysterious undertakings and witnesses at close range the havoc they can create, she comes to question her own values and her fragmented, unsettled way of life. Interspersed throughout the narrative are flashbacks to Isabel's earlier life, which appear in a journal she is reading, kept by her former music teacher in Berlin. Hoffman reveals here an impressive command both of classical music and of world affairs. Literate readers with a taste for the international will especially enjoy this highly intelligent work.
—Edward Cone

Kirkus Reviews
A concert pianist falls for a Chechen nationalist, with disastrous consequences. Better known as a memoirist (After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Aftermath of the Holocaust, 2004, etc.), Hoffman displays in her second novel the same weakness that slightly marred her first (The Secret, 2002): The ideas are frequently better-rounded than the characters. Touring piano star Isabel Merton meets Anzor Islikhanov after a concert in Paris and embarks on a credibility-straining affair with this touchy "representative of the Chechen government." Anzor sees condescension and offenses to his honor everywhere. He exhibits an alarming appetite for revenge against his country's Soviet oppressors and sneering contempt for Westerners, variously dismissed as "self-indulgent . . . spoiled . . . stupid." (It doesn't help that the friends Isabel introduces to him are caricatures of vapid, well-meaning liberals.) He follows Isabel from Brussels to Copenhagen, Vienna, Prague and beyond, improbably taking her along to meetings with a kaffiyeh-clad man who might as well have "terrorist" tattooed across his forehead. The sense of an obtrusive, didactic authorial hand is reinforced by lengthy excerpts from the book Isabel is reading, a memoir by her former teacher Ernst Wolfe (another refugee from disaster who disdains sloppy Westerners), and by her meetings with a fellow Wolfe student who is now a famous cellist-and a stereotypically go-for-the-gusto contrast to sensitive Isabel. Hoffman nearly redeems 200 pages of this irritating build-up in the novel's searing final section after a bomb goes off at Isabel's concert in Barcelona. The pianist is hurled into a spiritual and psychological crisis: Shecan't perform, she can't practice, she can't even listen to music. Echoes of Camus and Dostoevsky reverberate as Isabel wonders what possible meaning art can have in a world beset by violence and hatred. Her reclamation of beauty and discovery of a new passion make for a moving finale. If only it didn't require such long and schematic preparation to get there. Ambitious and elegantly written, but seriously overdetermined.
From the Publisher
The New York Times Book Review
“A nuanced portrait of a musician deeply engaged in the complexities of her art …intelligent and affecting…Hoffman writes about music and musicianship with poetry and precision, wit and melancholy.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Haunting… Hoffman captures beautifully the juxtaposition of art's transcendent beauty with the profound political uneasiness of our times.”

Greg Sandow, ArtsJornal
“It seemed at first like a quiet novel, but lovely and honest... And the honesty is both emotional and musical. This is one of the few novels I’ve read that -- in its scenes of concert life, in its account of what the pianist thinks when she’s playing, and in its scenes from the pianis’s long-ago student life -- really convey how classical music works. Hoffman...is both observant and wonderfully sensitive.”

Chicago Tribune
“A turbulent tale that grips the reader's attention. Hoffman's musical training, her sensitivity to current events, and her own traumatic life experiences combine to make for a distinctive novel that is fully worthy of our attention.”

The Washington Times
Appassionata is a serious pleasure, a meditation on character, society, the world and beauty.”

NPR.org
Appassionata is a sophisticated work...a nuanced look at the role of music in our lives, the creative process and, most inspiringly, the good and ill that follow when all restraints are removed from our day-to-day existence.”

O, The Oprah Magazine
“Adagio, accelerando–words that mark the way music moves through time and, in Eva Hoffman’s acute new novel, Appassionata (Other Press), describe the dynamic of human emotion, the subtle “vocabulary of the soul.” Isabel Merton is a brilliant concert pianist, a medium who transmits the passions of Mozart and Chopin, through her fingertips. Unmoored from her marriage, on tour in Europe, she meets Anzor, a charismatic Chechen exile. Their romance is hardly unexpected, but Hoffman’s eloquent insights into “the intimate history of violence” rings startlingly true.”

The Jewish Chronicle
“Hoffman has produced a compelling account of the life of a concert pianist...in her latest novel, Appassionata.…Hoffman's musical training, her sensitivity to current events, and her own traumatic life experiences combine to make for a distinctive novel that is fully worthy of our attention.”

Times Literary Supplement
“An organic portrait of a thinking, feeling artist coming to terms with her world.”

Chicago Jewish Star
“An ambitious, complex work that demands a reader’s attention as it explores issues of art and politics, purpose and meaning, nationalism and internationalism guided to eventual resolution by the romantic lyricism of Chopin and Schumann.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Hoffman’ s prose is reliably gorgeous…what’s memorable is the way Hoffman maps the intersection of art, history and man's striving for meaning.”

Booklist (starred review)
“An exquisite and disquieting story of love, terror, and loss, with geopolitical resonance and a profound moral calculus.”

Kirkus Reviews
“Ambitious and elegantly written.”

The Urban Coaster 

“It’s always been deemed a great challenge to capture the power and immediacy of music in writing, but in her second novel Appassionata (Other Press, 2009) award-winning author Eva Hoffman bravely takes up that gauntlet while also wading into the murky waters of world politics.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590513194
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
05/05/2009
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.72(w) x 8.76(h) x 1.04(d)

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Read an Excerpt

His eyes become remote again, his mouth set. He turns away from her, and picks up a jagged stone and throws it, with surprising force, down into the small ravine. A faint sound reaches them, mixed with the unvarying, gurgling water. She follows the movement of his torso as he turns effortlessly with the extension of the throwing arm. Line of beauty, she thinks, line of grace. . . . The casual arc of the throwing arm seems to slow into a timelessness; and suddenly, as if in concert with the elongated curve, she feels a surge of longing so sudden and powerful that she’s afraid she’ll fall from it, that her chest will cave in as from a blow.

Anzor’s eyes return to her, still occluded, still looking into another distance; then they gather toward a more focused light. His face is for a moment fully unmasked, and he directs at her a stare that takes her in with a kind of encompassing ferocity. She stares back. He is very near and at a great distance. She knows nothing about this man, except the sudden power of his presence. A line of attraction and danger seems to vibrate between them in a tense ostinato. She feels she could travel a long way along that line, beyond the dark glow of his gaze, and into whatever lies within. For a moment, their eyes lock.

Then the moment is over, and they start walking back to the car. On the way down the winding road, they talk politely, as people who are getting acquainted talk.

Meet the Author

Eva Hoffman was born in Krakow, Poland, and emigrated to America in her teens. She is the author of Lost in Translation, Exit Into History, Shtetl, The Secret, and After Such Knowledge, and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Whiting Award, and an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She lives in London.

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