Cover Image: The Prague Sonata

The Prague Sonata

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Member Reviews

A great story, which told a new version of events. I loved how the stories intertwined between the past and present.  It also shows the point of view of a female academic struggling in a misogynistic society,
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I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

Meta Taverner was a brilliant concert pianist until an accident injured her hand; now, in the year 2000, she is a musicologist.  When a woman gives Meta a piece of an 18th century work, Meta sees how beautiful the song is, but there is no indication of who wrote it.  The woman tells Meta that the song was split into three parts by a friend in Prague at the onset of World War II and asks Meta to return the piece to her friend.  This quest leads Meta to Prague with the hope of finding the missing pieces, finding the woman who owns the work, and learning who wrote this beautiful piece.  Not everyone she meets along the way is a friend, and soon she discovers others have the same goal as her for very different reasons.

Many World War II books cover the invasion of Poland; I enjoyed getting to learn a little about the invasion of the Czech Republic during World War II, as well as the Velvet Revolution in the 1990s.  With many dual timeline books, I feel more heavily invested in the earlier timeline.  However, with the mystery of trying to find the missing pieces and discover the provenance of the work, I was invested in both timelines in this book.  The slow, meandering pace reminded me of the slower pace of life I could imagine citizens having in the Czech Republic, especially back in 2000 when broadband internet wasn't readily available, and Meta wouldn't have had a smart phone to help her with her search.
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An intriguing musical mystery about a lost manuscript. Young American Meta Taverner is entrusted with part of a sonata manuscript, and told that the other two parts were separated from it in order to hopefully save at least some of it during the Nazi persecution of Jews in WWII Prague. She feels impelled to try to trace the missing parts and sets out on a journey across continents, meeting some of the survivors connected with it. Although enjoyable, I did find my credibility stretched on occasion and the plot depends rather too much on contrivances and coincidences. It’s also rather too long, and I felt that the author simply wanted to include every bit of his, admittedly thorough, research. The omission of one or two subplots, such as Meta’s relationship with her American boyfriend, would have made for a tighter, more fast-paced narrative. Nevertheless, I did enjoy it and was invested enough in Meta’s quest to await the result eagerly. A knowledge of music and musicology is an advantage here, although the writing is largely accessibly to anyone without, and overall I found it an entertaining, and sometimes moving, read.
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An interesting, (musical) historical fiction, taking place mostly in Prague. A unique sonata masterpiece, hastily divided up into 3 parts, in order to avoid the Nazis finding it and benefiting from this treasure. 60 years later, a talented musician in NYC, was given a part of this masterpiece, and is drawn to an exploration of her life, with the ambition of putting this musical treasure back together again. The Prague Sonata was full of great musical and historical detail. I appreciate the research and mystery it built up. Great book, slightly too long, yet beautiful nonetheless. Thank you NetGalley for the e-reader copy for my review. All opinions are my own.
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This is a lengthy and fairly slowly plotted book but it is charming in many ways. It follows Meta’s quest to unite all the pieces of a forgotten sonata and return it whole to its rightful owner after she is gifted one of the pieces by an elderly Czech woman. The Prague sonata was split during the second world war to stop it falling into the hands of the Nazis. It took many for this book to be written, including lots of research and travel. All this research has given the descriptions a rich and truly evocative quality.

Meta Taverner is undoubtedly the protagonist and is a well rounded and well-developed character. She is driven by an almost obsessive desire to find the story behind the sonata that she has been bequeathed and once complete, work to discover the identity of its composer.

Written in the third person from the perspective of both Meta and the other characters in the book including the villain. The narrative follows two timelines one contemporary and the other during world war two which shows how the sonata was split and the fates of the three pieces and their bearers.

There is a villain in the book, but he is a bit wishy-washy as an antagonist goes, he isn’t particularly evil, just vain and pompous and unscrupulous. However, he does what any good villain does and thwarts and sabotages Meta in her search.

I really enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t an easy or quick read and I did almost put it down for good about a third of the way in but I am glad I didn’t. In the process of reading the book I have been educated in both Musicology and history, but not to the detriment of the narrative. The middle of the book felt a little aimless but I think this is probably due to the nature of searching for something, and not finding it easily.

There is no overt sex or violence so this book would be suitable for any age range but teenagers may find it a bit slow.
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Morrow includes a lot of details in this book. This weighed it down for me. The central plot device, the idea of a lost sonata by one of the greats of classical music is all too possible. For me, the inclusion of petty details, the packing, unpacking, the daily habits are the things that made me wonder if this was true. It felt reported, not imagined. With all of these details included, I sometimes longed for the story to move along.
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Shows some of the effects of WWII without being totally dispiriting about the human race.  Details in music history also quite interesting.  Plot a little bit predictable, but keeps up interest while providing some good educational information.
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Excellent plot, character development, and sense of place(s).  I especially appreciated the integration of music into the wasn't a romance with a bit of music and history thrown in, music was the focus.  Another very welcome surprise was that it was a non-murder mystery!  Easily the best book I've read this year, and will be recommending it for a long time to come, for historical context and that readers don't need technical knowledge of music to enjoy it.  Four thumbs up, as I give it two and my husband adds both of his, because I couldn't stop raving about it so he also read it.
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This is a wonderful journey of breathtaking scope and great love.  
Meta,  young New York musicologist, is given the second movement of an 18th century sonata by an elderly Czech immigrant.
We follow Meta from New York to Prague, London, the U.S. Midwest and back to New York in pursuit of the the remaining two movements.
The story is told from several points of view, in several time periods.
The narrative describes terrible images of the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Velvet Revolution, but also lush, beautiful images of Prague and the mysterious sonata.
This is a wonderful story which I would give 5 stars but for two things:    occasionally, the dialogue seems a bit awkward, or forced; and the "villain" seems a bit too much like Snidely Whiplash, (who gained movie fame by tying damsels to train tracks).
Otherwise, outstanding!
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This is a gripping tale of a musical manuscript with a well-worked historical background. The descriptions of Prague are very accurate and very evocative and atmospheric. There is plenty of historical detail and the narrative has a ring of truth - it would be the basis of a great film!
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Bradford Morrow has written a beautiful symphony of words that crescendo in the final movement of this novel.  An historical novel of life in Czechoslovakia as Hitler brings World War II to their doorstep and modern day Czechoslovakia and the Unites States as the protagonist, Meta Taverner tries to bring together the individual movements of an ancient sonata, that were separated by the war and presumed lost with the people who carried them. 

As one of the subjects who is searching for the parts of the musical manuscript describes it, "A brother and a sister living in Josefov, neither of them particularly compos mentis, survivors from the Nazi occupation days, had made noises about an early sonata manuscript, divvied up into three parts as Caesar divided Gaul."   This novel takes the reader across time periods and oceans as the suspense builds through both the historical stories of the survivors of the two great wars and the travels that Meta and her colleagues take to try and find the owners of the music and hear the stories from the protectors of the music.

The story starts during World War One when as a young girl Otylie's father is leaving her after they have buried her mother.  Otylie is nine years old when her father leaves her with a musical manuscript that he says will bring her a fortune in the future.  He leaves her with the words that, "all wars begin with music".  She grows up wanting to put music behind her and working hard just to live from day to day during WWII. 

Now in current day New York, Meta meets Irena, who at 80 years old is looking to pass on the burden of holding onto a music manuscript that needs to be reunited with its original owner.  Meta a twenty something music student is looking for something that will ignite her passion.  In the course of trying to find out who wrote the original score and find its rightful owner, she has found her own desire to explore Europe and find love.

Morrow has used so many wonderful musical phrases in this novel, one example being his way of describing love as a duet, "A duet that wanted to evolve into a fugue.  One whose harmonic and rhythmic structures moved toward the resolution."

So wonderfully written that even though this is a narrative that I have read before about a lost object music or artwork from the Holocaust that people in current day are searching for, it was gripping and even so lovely at the end that I was brought to a few tears.
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This book was two stories that intertwined together with the old and new.  First it is about the Nazis going into Czechoslovakia during World War II.  A husband and wife split apart in a world turned upside down.  The second story is of a young woman given a manuscript from the past and she has to find the other parts of the manuscript..  
It was good,  The history of World War II was especially interesting.
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This novel ranks up there with the best books I’ve ever read. Right along with greats like All The Light We Cannot See and the Nightingale. It weaves together music, history, WWII Europe, love and mystery. It’s captivating. Mesmerizing. Wonderfully written. It hops a little between people and time periods which adds to the intrigue and keeps the reader on their toes. I couldn’t put it down. The author extensively researched music, history and culture to bring this story to life. The little bit of love story both modern and historical padded all the historical information and brought the story to life in a more relatable way to the common person who could have been averse to the story’s incredible technical musical detail. As a musician, a pianist myself, this story was amazing. It captured all of my interests. It spurred me to practice more and relit my dwindling passion for classical music. I love this book... every page! 
I received a digital copy from netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Thank you Grove Atlantic for providing me with a digital copy of The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow via NetGalley.

I'll just say this from the outset, I loved this book. It has a little bit of everything: history, music, mystery, suspense, war, love, new world, old world, and family both literal and figurative. I really appreciated how Morrow writes in such a way that you KNOW he's spent time getting to know a place and subject through experience and extensive research. Having studied music in college, I really enjoyed the music history, terminology, and allusions used throughout the story, though I don't think you need a music degree to understand or appreciate what's going on. I'm not going to sketch the story here because I'm sure whoever is reading this has access to the publisher's teaser, but I will say that as I was reading The Prague Sonata I was often reminded of Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book; both involve a young expert of their field seeking to preserve and restore a remarkable manuscript, and both tell the stories of those who have been entrusted as caretakers of the manuscript whether in whole or in part while also following a modern story line.

Really wonderfully and engagingly written, highly recommended.
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I loved this book so much.  I was drawn to reading it from the description as it sounded like an interesting premise. The amount of research that Morrow clearly had to undertake to write this book is amazing.  It makes for a very interesting read.  Perhaps some people may get lost as it flips between different time periods covered as it moves from the First World War to the Second, to the fall of the Berlin Wall and then the current day as Meta tries to unite the 3 movements of the sonata.  It is a moving book and a beautiful read and well worth investing the time as it is a large book...
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The Prague Sonata by Bradford Morrow was described by the genres musical mystery, historical mystery, Cold War drama and World War II drama.  All genres that I love to read.  And it was by an author who had received a prestigious Academy Award.  So it was with great anticipation that I began this book.  And the premise intrigued me—that of a modern day musicologist and pianist, Meta Taverner, whose career has been sidelined by an injury stumbling across one third of a compelling musical manuscript in the possession of a dying woman who had survived World War II Czechoslovakia and immigrated to America.  This dying woman has a compelling story to tell about the other two portions of the manuscript—a three part sonata that was divided up in Prague by her friend, Otylie Bartošová, only steps ahead of the German invaders in 1939. The sonata— an anonymous Classical-era score given to Otylie by her father—is split up into three parts rendering it essentially without value to the Nazis.  Otylie—who also immigrates to America after serving in WWII London with the Czech government in exile—gives the third portion of the sonata to her beloved Jewish husband who has gone underground to help the Czech resistance.  Meta sets off to find the other two portions of the sonata and to find out if Otylie, the manuscripts’ rightful owner is still alive.  Her travels take her to Prague in the Czech Republic as well as its namesakes Praha, Texas, and Prague, Nebraska.  The story was fascinating, but long.  Too long!  And the transitions between the present day and the past were not always smoothly written.  What was a good book, could have been a much better book—a great book—if it had been better edited and portions made smoother and edited out.  The manuscript, by the way, has all of the characteristics of that of a great eighteenth century composer whose name I will not mention in case you decide to read the book for yourself.  Thank you Atlantic Monthly Press and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book and for allowing me to review it.
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My undergrad was in music history and literature, so I was captivated by this story right away.  I really enjoyed hearing about a city/country with which I was not as familiar.  I think this may not be as appealing if you don't have some background in music, but I would recommend it to those who like historical fiction.
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In 1939 Prague, with the Nazis on the doorstep, a woman named Otylie hopes to save her most treasured possession -- an inherited musical manuscript of unknown authorship -- by tearing it into three pieces. One movement of the sonata goes to her best friend Irena, the second goes to her husband in the Resistance, and the third she keeps for herself as she flees the country. Some 60 years later, Meta, a young musicologist who trained as a concert pianist, chances on one of the sonata's movements and sets out to find the missing pieces and reunite them with their rightful owner. She also must prove the manuscript's authenticity and perhaps discover who authored the haunting composition.  Bach? Beethoven? Maybe Mozart or Salieri?

Bradford Morrow details Meta's daunting quest in his new historical novel The Prague Sonata (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), and I do mean details.  The premise is fascinating, the characters interesting, the plot hopscotches in time and place -- Prague, London, New York, Nebraska. But the pace is uneven, the transitions often jarring, and the narrative so weighted with detail that it tested my will to read on. Students of music and history may well be enthralled, and I was at times because Morrow is an accomplished storyteller.  (I love Trinity Fields, thought The Forgers was clever and entertaining). But, at least in this case, too much of a good thing was still too much.

from On a Clear Day I Can Read Forever      11/17     3.5 stars
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Bradford Morrow has delivered a literary novel that traces a Prague Sonata from its emergence in the Second World War Prague through its disappearance and reemergence in New York City.  The Prague Sonata is reconnected with its Prague beginnings.
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I'm really sorry I can not give a better review, but this book disappointed me by the time I reached the end. A rather interesting story is embedded in an inexplicable number of details that do not contribute to the plot, and the action is so extravagant and, as an average reader, at some point you will probably lose the will to find out the remaining secrets hidden in this book. I believe this is an excellent idea, but a weak performance. The whole story could be purified and presented to a broader audience much better. This way, it's just a mediocre novel.
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