A rich and vibrant memoir that weaves chronic illness and classical music into a raw and inspiring tale of grace and determination.Andrea Avery, already a promising and ambitious classical pianist at twelve, was diagnosed with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) that threatened not just her musical aspirations but her ability to live a normal life.
As Andrea navigates the pain and frustration of coping with RA alongside the usual travails of puberty, college, sex, and just growing-up, she turns to music?specifically Franz Schubert's sonata in B-flat D960, and the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein for strength and inspiration. The heartbreaking story of this mysterious sonata—Schubert’s last, and his most elusive and haunting—is the soundtrack of Andrea's story.
Sonata is a breathtaking exploration of a “Janus-head miracle”—Andrea's extraordinary talent and even more extraordinary illness. With no cure for her R.A. possible, Andrea must learn to live with this disease while not letting it define her, even though it leaves its mark on everything around her—family, relationships, even the clothes she wears. And in this riveting account, she never loses her wit, humor, or the raw artistry of a true performer.
As the goshawk becomes a source of both devotion and frustration for Helen Macdonald in H is for Hawk, so the piano comes to represent both struggle and salvation for Andrea in her extraordinary debut.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I wasn’t expecting to like this so much when I picked it up; I thought it would be interesting to read about Avery’s experience with rheumatoid arthritis and how she came to terms with managing this debilitating disease while also wanting to be a musician. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the raw, heartfelt emotions and brutally honest look at her life and her experience growing up. Avery lays everything bare in this memoir: how much she enjoys and lives for music, her dreams of being a pianist, the horrifying way RA takes control of your body, how a chronic illness affects your mind, too. Nothing is glossed over, and it makes for an incredibly compelling read. She’s has a quick, dry wit and even though a lot of this book is tough to read about, it’s often also quite funny. I felt like I was invited to sit with her and learn about her life, and she entertained me with her stories. I loved the framing of the writing by using the parts of a musical work; I thought that was quite clever. This book was beautifully paced and neatly told. Avery is clearly a talented writer, and I can only hope that she continues to write, because I would love to read another book by her. I recommend this for anyone with an interest in memoirs; if you like music, you’ll also get a lot out of this, as Avery uses composers’ histories and stories to frame her own narrative. It’s well done and a treat to read.
Some people make music their life while others live life musically. Andrea Avery writes her life as Sonata. Using Franz Schubert’s sonata in B-flat D960 as inspiration and metaphor, she shares her memoir of living with RA, rheumatoid arthritis. Like Schubert, debilitated at the height of his career, Andrea, in college, gives up her dream of playing piano professionally when her body will no longer allow it. Instead of succumbing to her disability, as directed by a professor at Arizona State, she uses her pain to compose music (129), in this case, music in prose. Each chapter is a movement of the sonata (e.g. Allegro Giocoso or Largo) and is accompanied by a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein, brother to one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein. These headings name the tenor of the chapter and set her story in the context of a community of musicians and philosophers wrapping their heads around the place of pain and illness in art. Resonant of Olivia Laing’s THE LONELY CITY, Avery manages to make connections out of her individual and isolating experiences. Reaching out from these dark places, she speaks to us readers in our own. A climax comes in Target, of all places, where she encounters a curious little boy who asks why she looks the way she does. The incident, a cadenza of sorts, becomes a turning point. It is time go beyond the “deflection tactics,” (142), the tattoos and funky clothes, and claim “bi-abled” status, exclaiming, “I am the things I make. I am not the shape I take” (205). Andrea’s writing style is like the eclectic look she develops from childhood. “She’s something else” her physicist father likes to say. She’s not afraid to embrace a both a hip tone peppered with slang and references from her favorite grunge bands, as well as the academic elegance of research and her mother’s copious medical notes. Related-able to most every reader, she extends to us the same encouragement as the teachers she takes after to “put some oomph in it!”