So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Canone Inverso

Canone Inverso by Paolo Maurensig

A man buys a unique violin "with a tiny anthropomorphic head carved into the top of the pegboard" at an auction in London. Soon after the instrument arrives at his hotel room, another man comes to his hotel offering to pay him twice or three times the price for it. He claims to know its terrible story, and the violin's new owner asks him to tell his tale. He says he is a writer and tells of meeting Jenő Varga as a street musician in Vienna playing for tips in a tavern. After befriending the strange musician, Jenő tells him the story of two young Central European violinists of extremely different circumstance who meet and establish a special bond at a Kafkaesque music academy in the years prior to World War II. Kuno Blau is from a aristocratic Austrian family, and Jenő is a bastard son of unknown paternity raised by a sausage-maker step-father. The one thing that holds a clue to their relationship is the unique violin that has a special meaning to each of them.

Just before their final year at the academy, Jenő falls hopelessly in love with the famous violinist Sophie Hirschbaum, and then accepts Kuno's offer to spend the summer with his family in Innsbruck. The twisted lives of Kuno's family, and a deteriorating friendship between the two boys transforms their lives and their music forever.

It is Jenő's tale that has driven this man to seek the violin, hoping to confirm some part of the fabulous story he has heard. How can the new owner of the instrument make sense of all of this, and what can he contribute to its meaning?

In addition to telling the story of a talented musician and his instrument, this book addresses the following questions. Where does the exceptional talent come from that makes a great musician? What is the relationship between musicians and the music they create. Is there a bit of madness necessary to bring music to life? At what point does there cease to be a division between the music and the musician?