Appassionata

Appassionata

by Eva Hoffman

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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.

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)

About 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.

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.

Reading Group Guide

1. Does Isabel feel her life of “bourgeois heroism” (Page 5) and global travel to be somehow lacking? What do you think her malaise is about?

2. Ernest Wolfe is from an old world while Jane is from a new one. How do they contrast? How does music bridge their very different views of life? (Pages 103, 108, 150)

3. Compare Isabel and her husband Peter. How does Isabel think of him? Why does she leave him?

4. Anzor’s rage at the unjust treatment of the people of Chechnya has no bounds. How doe he manifest his rage? Do his feelings and some of his observations seem justified? At times Isabel agrees with him but she later begins to lose respect for him. Is Isabel naïve? Is Anzor?

5. The bombing, what Isabel calls “anti-music” (Page 298) throws her into a sea of doubts about art and meaning. How is she able to reawaken from this state of despair?

6. Ernest Wolfe says in his memoir, “I have also studied death. I come after….I was the child who ate death for breakfast. Only that ground is true, all the rest is ornament. Whatever sounds of pity and praise I find must rise up, however improbably, out of that. (Pages 87-88) Compare this with Anzor’s reaction to injustice and death.

7. In an interview Isabel is asked if it is arrogant to believe that European classical music expresses timeless and universal values. Isabel responds that it must not be since people all over the world want to listen to it. How does Appassionata illuminate the universality of music?

8. What does Anzor’s story about his father’s killing of his dog say about his conflicts between hate and love? What does it say about forgiveness?

9. Anzor shows a tremendous sensitivity about honor and respect and equates his rage with self-respect. Does his portrayal help you understand how this could turn into extreme violence? Can you imagine different ways to react to the indignities that he feels his people have suffered?

10. When Anzor says he loved his dog Isabel realizes she has never heard him use the word love except for his country. He had emphasized his feelings for his country over any individuals, including his family and friends. How does his nationalism affect his capacity for love?

11. When Isabel reflects on her relationship with Anzor, she realizes that “part of her has been poured into him, and part of him is now within her” (Page 183). How do parts of Azor show themselves in Isabel after the bombing?

Foreword

1. Does Isabel feel her life of “bourgeois heroism” (Page 5) and global travel to be somehow lacking? What do you think her malaise is about?

2. Ernest Wolfe is from an old world while Jane is from a new one. How do they contrast? How does music bridge their very different views of life? (Pages 103, 108, 150)

3. Compare Isabel and her husband Peter. How does Isabel think of him? Why does she leave him?

4. Anzor’s rage at the unjust treatment of the people of Chechnya has no bounds. How doe he manifest his rage? Do his feelings and some of his observations seem justified? At times Isabel agrees with him but she later begins to lose respect for him. Is Isabel naïve? Is Anzor?

5. The bombing, what Isabel calls “anti-music” (Page 298) throws her into a sea of doubts about art and meaning. How is she able to reawaken from this state of despair?

6. Ernest Wolfe says in his memoir, “I have also studied death. I come after….I was the child who ate death for breakfast. Only that ground is true, all the rest is ornament. Whatever sounds of pity and praise I find must rise up, however improbably, out of that. (Pages 87-88) Compare this with Anzor’s reaction to injustice and death.

7. In an interview Isabel is asked if it is arrogant to believe that European classical music expresses timeless and universal values. Isabel responds that it must not be since people all over the world want to listen to it. How does Appassionata illuminate the universality of music?

8. What does Anzor’s story about his father’s killing of his dog say about his conflicts between hate and love? What does itsay about forgiveness?

9. Anzor shows a tremendous sensitivity about honor and respect and equates his rage with self-respect. Does his portrayal help you understand how this could turn into extreme violence? Can you imagine different ways to react to the indignities that he feels his people have suffered?

10. When Anzor says he loved his dog Isabel realizes she has never heard him use the word love except for his country. He had emphasized his feelings for his country over any individuals, including his family and friends. How does his nationalism affect his capacity for love?

11. When Isabel reflects on her relationship with Anzor, she realizes that “part of her has been poured into him, and part of him is now within her” (Page 183). How do parts of Azor show themselves in Isabel after the bombing?

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Appassionata 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am not musical, nor do I know one whit more about the world of music than I learned (and promptly forgot) during recorder lessons in elementary school. Or if you'd like a more recent musical lesson, during my reading of the exquisite An Equal Music by Vikram Seth. I am also not political, and while I do have some knowledge of the Chechen situation, I live a pretty insular life so my understanding of said situation is sketchy at best. These two holes in my cultural/political knowledge did not bode well for this book right off the bat.This is the story of internationally acclaimed, rising star pianist, Isabel Merton. She travels all over Europe for her concerts but she is adrift and rootless, having left her husband shortly before the tour series. But then she is introduced to a man who is exiled from Chechnya and who tells her he is trying to get support for the exiled government. When he continues to show up at her concerts, they fall into an affair. Isabel dutifully trots along to political meetings where she understands nothing, not only because she doesn't speak the language but because she can't recognize zealotry even when it swirls in the very air surrounding her. Meanwhile, she also continues to call home to her excessively accomodating husband (ex-husband?) and to use up all his good psychic energy in an effort to stay on an even keel herself.While I didn't understand much that was musical here (as admitted above), I did recognize and dislike the stereotypically narcissistic artist, the center of her own narrow, very specialized world. Despite being a book ostensibly fueled by passion, the descriptions were cold-blooded and I didn't truly believe that the affair was a consuming thing that could only be subsumed to causes even greater than love. Actually, I saw precious little love of any sort in this unless zealotry counts. I would have loved to see real passion rather than wavering insularity. This was a lot of florid philosophizing coupled with tepid characters.The plot builds to a predictable crescendo but the question is whether I cared at all. And the short answer was no. By that time I already wanted to quit reading. Yes. Me. The compulsive reader who finishes every book she starts. Reading this made for a painful reading experience. I was bored out of my gourd. I don't mind being stretched. I even enjoy being stretched. Hell, I cheerfully signed on for many extra years of school simply for the joy of books, reading, and learning. But this book, this book was brutal. Its cardinal sin? I was bored. Certainly other people disagree with me as the book is a WNBA Great Group Read this year, but in all honesty, of all the reading groups I've been in over the years, from pretentious literary groups to light beachy read groups, there's not a one to which I'd recommend this book. It sucked the very life out of me and briefly extinguished the joy of reading.Thanks (I think) to The Other Press for sending me a review copy of this book.