Read The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain Online


Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem only a distant echo. An only child, he lives alone with Emilie, the mother he adores but who treats him with bitter severity. He begins an intense friendship with a Jewish boy his age, talented and mercurial Anton Zweibel, a budding concert pianist. The novel follows GustavGustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem only a distant echo. An only child, he lives alone with Emilie, the mother he adores but who treats him with bitter severity. He begins an intense friendship with a Jewish boy his age, talented and mercurial Anton Zweibel, a budding concert pianist. The novel follows Gustav’s family, tracing the roots of his mother’s anti-Semitism and its impact on her son and his beloved friend. Moving backward to the war years and the painful repercussions of an act of conscience, and forward through the lives and careers of Gustav and Anton, The Gustav Sonata explores the passionate love of childhood friendship as it's lost, transformed, and regained over a lifetime. It's a powerful and deeply moving addition to the beloved oeuvre of one of our greatest contemporary novelists....

Title : The Gustav Sonata
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781784740030
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 241 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Gustav Sonata Reviews

  • Hannah Greendale
    2019-03-21 11:01

    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.Gustav Perle lives with his mother in a small town in Switzerland. While the horrors of the Second World War are still a distant echo, Gustav makes the acquaintance of a little Jewish boy named Anton Zwiebel, initiating a friendship that is not supported by Gustav's openly anti-Semitic mother but nevertheless lasts a lifetime. The Gustav Sonata can be broken down into three section, each with its virtues, though the third section of the book leaves something to be desired. The opening third of the book introduces young Gustav, who makes for an adorable protagonist. He is loyal to his mother, though she is generally severe and short-tempered due to the strain of their difficult financial circumstances. There's an endearing degree of charm to be found in Gustav's naivety and limited understanding of the world. Every year, on August 1st, Swiss National Day, Emilie set posies of gentian flowers round the photograph and made Gustav kneel down in front of it and pray for his father's soul. Gustav didn't understand what a soul was. He could see only that [his father] was a good-looking man with a confident smile, wearing a police uniform with shiny buttons. So Gustav decided to pray for the buttons - that they would keep their shine, and that his father's proud smile wouldn't fade as the years passed. The way Gustav and Anton's friendships unfolds is particularly sweet. Perhaps it was the idea of Anton playing the piano with his small hands, or perhaps it was when Anton told him that his surname was Zwiebel, which was identical to the word for 'onion,' and made you feel sorry for him; whatever it was, there was something about Anton which made Gustav feel that he had to protect him. And this was the first time that he heard Anton laugh. And it was the kind of laugh that couldn't be resisted; you had to join in, and suddenly the two boys couldn't stop giggling.Travelling back in time, the second section of the book explores the relationship between Gustav's parents before, and leading up to the moment when, he was born. This section is emotionally fraught and reveals how Gustav's mother, Emilie, arrived at such a hateful and angry way of thinking; however, a strong argument could be made that her negative attitude is sorely misplaced. Emilie's story allows readers to better understand why she's not the loving mother Gustav deserves, though she continues to be a character that's easy to detest. Where much insight is gained from the second section of the book, it seems to have no bearing on the third and final section where the book arguably loses its way. In the third section, The Gustav Sonata shifts forward in time to examine the relationship between Old Gustav and his mother, as well as between Gustav and Anton when they are both in their sixties. Gustav comes to some startling realizations, but otherwise, the moment when everything in the book ought to have been woven together comes and goes without satisfaction, and the book reaches a conclusion that is both somber and underwhelming. And Gustav thought, yes, that is how life is always arranged, with one living thing being chosen over another, and the loser sent away to hunger and solitude. The Gustav Sonata starts strong but ultimately presents itself as a disjointed story that may leave some readers feeling miffed.

  • Diane S ☔
    2019-02-25 03:55

    A beautifully written, albeit melancholy story about the friendship of two men who first met when they were young boys. Gustav and Anton first meet in kindergarten when Anton arrives crying pitifully. The teacher asks Gustav to take Anton under his care, which he does, offering the same advice his mother gives him and that is to "master himself."This is the first book I have read set in Switzerland and when the backstory of Gustav's father is presented, during the war. Switzerland and its stance on neutrality will eventually turn away many Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany. Gustav's father will pay heavily for an act his conscience forces him to commit and will cause his mother to have a lifelong hatred of Jews. Gustav and Anton both will spend much of their lives trying for the unattainable, Gustav, his Mother's love, Anton, a piano prodigy, his full musical potential. Yet, their friendship will be the saving grace for each of them. An amazing book with strong emotion undercurrents though told in an undramatic fashion. Characters and a story that is impossible to forget. A book that points out the past is never past but we must learn to move forward regardless. Happiness is possible, hope is ever present. ARC from Netgalley.

  • Elyse
    2019-02-24 04:56

    "He thought that if he had been some other boy, he would have begun crying or at least whimpering by now, but he wasn't: he was Gustav Perle. He was going to 'master himself' --for the sake of his Mutti, for the sake of his dead father, for the sake of Anton, who cried too often, for the sake of a few beautiful things in the world, like the sun on a balcony in Davos". Gustav was 5 years old at the start of this novel. He was poor...often cold, hungry. He lived with his mother Emilie in Mitteland, Switzerland. On hands and knees, he helped his mother clean the grating of the Church of Sankt Johann when he wasn't in school. He was a sweet, gentle, compassionate child. He showed empathy toward his unhappy mother who was harsh and had a cold edge to her. It was almost as if Gustav was loving his Mutti for two people....( holding the responsibility himself that somewhere deep inside her, she loved him too). Gustav's best friend was Anton Zwiebel. They met in Kindergarten. Anton's family was Jewish, and he was the only child. Anton's father was a banker, so their family came from a much higher economic bracket. His parents Adrianna and Armin had a wonderful marriage - always a harmony between them, and were aware of Gustav's loyalty of friendship to their son, Anton....even when Anton didn't demonstrate the same type of friendship back. In a way... ''again', Gustav, held himself responsible for trusting deep down his friend Anton loved him the same way he held his mother. Gustav was such a peacemaker - and 'at peace' with's as if EVERY expression ---his mother & best friend were expressions of love regardless of theirself centeredness. He didn't need to measure their behavior by his own experience. He 'chose' love and goodness. It's how he saw the world. Anton studied piano .......a talented child prodigy who struggled with live performances. These struggles carry over to every area of his life. We can feel Anton's anger & disappointment --- we can almost hear it through his music. Anton counted on Gustav to be there for 'him' when he wanted him or needed a friend. Most of the time Gustav allowed it. This novel is divided into three sections1. early childhood years of Gustav and Anton2. Emilie and Erich- their relationship, marriage, and the loss of their first son...and its this section where we see the position Switzerland took during the war. They were not letting Jewish refugees into the country....many were being turned away. Too much fear of German invasion if they did. 3. Gustav and Anton into their 50's and 60's --( we learn more about how their lives turned out - limitations, failed expectations, and Gustav's closeness with Adrianna, and Lottie. A QUOTE FROM THE MIDDLE SECTION - referring to Erich Perle, Gustav's father - whom Gustav never met:"Wouldn't other men--even other policeman --have been moved to falsify documents to break the law, to save a man who had done nothing wrong? Surely Erich's crime is rendered neutral by saving of souls? Isn't it?" Erich was moved. "He was weakened by his compassion for a man his own age, with a son named Daniel. And surely one date falsification would never have been detected? But the stack of false dates is going to come to light, one way or another. Erich now understands that he's put his career -- even his life --in jeopardy". Erich does loose his job as police officer. He wishes to teach history to children-give them an understanding of why their country - [Switzerland] - teach them why it must cling to neutrality. Schools don't want to hire him. Four schools turned Erich away because they didn't want a 'disgraced' police officer, ( with a trial pending), working with children. Fear of German invasion was always a daily fear - so Erich knew minds were made up; he'd never get to teach. He ends up with a night shift job to supervise cleaning and maintenance at the tram depot with scant wages. He has also taken a lover...Lottie Erdman, his friend's wife. Which later gets more complicated when Emilie comes back. A LITTLE MORE ABOUT EMILIE...Gustav's mother:"More and more Emilie dreams of Charlie Chaplin and the palm-lined boulevards of Hollywood, far away, where the war could never, ever reach".Emilie wonders how much more she can endure living with her mother Irma. She feels so much sorrow and bitterness. She has lost a son...and blames Erich and the Jews. In Emilie's eyes she lost everything because of the Jews. Yet... Emilie 'learned' unhappiness from her mother at a young girl herself. I think in many ways, I felt most sorry for Emilie in this novel. Sure she was a mean old crank- but she lived with chronic daily suffering. She smelled like stinky cheese from when she worked in the cheese factory - her breath often smelled of aniseed - and she was constantly drinking something. She worried about money- forced to take a second job at the Church on Saturdays ( scrubbing). Her only happiness seems to be in a few good memories of the past and a few dreams into the future. Reality... not so pleasant! ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE:Whew.... to REALLY LET GO and express myself: I LOVED THIS NOVEL!! It's close to PERFECT!!!!!! Rose Tremain: WOW... I'm a new fan!!!! I love the depth - the layers - there is soooo much to discuss in this novel. I love the way you wrote it...The characters - the contrast of the characters.....( the value of what we learn from each one---each of their strengths and their weaknesses). This novel is hits on three levels -- our heart....our head....and our gut. All three of these levels together make this book very special!!!! Absolutely wonderful!!!!!A MUST READ!!!Thank You Netgalley, W.W. Norton & Company, and Rose Tremain

  • Iris P
    2019-02-22 08:07

    The Gustav SonataWhat I most appreciate about The Gustav Sonata is how Rose Tremain tells a story that is at times cruel and morally complex and accomplishes this with surprising clarity and elegant simplicity. This is a novel about relationships in all its different forms, about the heartbreak of unrequited love, about a country caught in a moral dilemma but, fundamentally, this is a story about two lifelong friends and how against all odds, their love endured the passage of time. The year is 1947, in the small town of Matzlingen, the atrocities of World War II feel remote to most of its citizens. Switzerland, one of the few countries that escaped a Nazi invasion, is well known for its long-standing policy of neutrality when it comes to foreign affairs.There are many reasons why Hitler never invaded this small European country, chiefly among them its geographical location as well as its commitment to a non-interventionist doctrine. What Tremain skillfully inserts into this plot, is Switzerland's decision during the late 1930's, to enforce stricter border security preventing refugees fleeing the Nazis from entering the country. The Gustav Sonata is divided into three parts covering a span of 65 years. Part one opens in the late 1940's, right as Gustav Perle and Anton Zweibel meet during their first day in kindergarten. Although the boys couldn't be more different or come from more diverse backgrounds, they instantly become friends.Gustav is the oldest 5-year-old you'd ever meet. He is terribly lonely, a boy who lacks both emotional and physical nourishment. His mother Emilie, is bitter and incapable of showing the most basic signs of affection to his son. Indeed, some of the most heartbreaking moments in this novel happen as we see Gustav forced into a premature adulthood, desperately trying to please his uncaring mother.Anton, on the other hand, comes from an affluent family. Armin and Adriana Zweibel, a Jewish couple that escaped Germany before the war, are loving and involved parents. Anton is a piano prodigy and, even at this young age, his life revolves around music. Unfortunately, his mercurial personality would be a significant hindrance as he pursuits his dream of becoming a concert pianist. For Gustav, the reality of being fatherless and having such a neglectful mother has made him someone with a profound need to take care of others. When a teacher sees Anton crying during that first day of school, she asks Gustav to look after his new friend. Unbeknown to them, this is a role that Gustav will play throughout most of his life.Gustav and Anton become inseparable but Emilie doesn't entirely approves of their friendship. "He is a nice boy"she tells him, "but of course he is a Jew. What's a Jew?" asks Gustav. "Ah,"responds Emilie,"the Jews are the people your father died trying to save."In part two, which takes us back to the 1930's, we learn how Erick and Emilie met, the mystery behind Erick's death, and where Emilie's anti-semitic sentiments come from.Part three moves forward to the 1990's. By now Gustav and Anton are middle-aged, still living in their hometown. Gustav owns and manages a small hotel, a career that perfectly suits his personality. Anton is a music teacher and has reluctantly given up on his aspiration of becoming a professional musician. Surprisingly, life would give him one last chance at achieving his long-term goal.So, you might be asking why my 4-star rating instead of 5? Well, I'm glad you asked because although I thought this was a beautifully written story, I do have a couple of issues. My first point is that I felt that the emphasis on "neutrality" as a character trait that defines both some of the characters and Switzerland, felt at times a little forced. I do believe that the identity of one's own country greatly influences our moral compass, but at times this part of the narrative felt somehow contrived and overdone.My second issue is that, for a novel that has its share of intimate moments and sexual banter, I found that Gustav and Anton remained conspicuously asexual and perhaps most importantly, aloof and disconnected from each other. This might be a cultural issue or maybe it was a conscious decision by the author to convey the implausibility of such a relationship, especially at that time. In any case, I truly missed a deeper emotional connection between these two characters.And yet, is difficult not to like this novel as there are plenty of redeeming qualities to find here, including Tremain's ability to convey the complexity of the moral dilemma faced by the Swiss people during the war without judging or oversimplifying the issue.I recently listened to an interview where the author describes her novel as "a story in a minor chord", which I thought wonderfully summarizes its essence: quiet and melancholic, tender and painfully beautiful. The audiobook is very well narrated by Dereck Perkins.

  • Doug H
    2019-02-25 05:01

    This is only the third novel by Rose Tremain that I’ve read, but I’m already tempted to add her name to my short list of favorite writers. One of the things that I most admire about her as an author is her chameleon-like ability to change her colors with every novel she writes. She never repeats herself, but she always has a great story to tell and she always tells it well. I think my favorite of the three I’ve read so far is still Trespass (a modern Gothic set in a crumbling manor in the French countryside), but this one is a close second. Like a piano sonata, The Gustav Sonata is cleverly composed in three sections with different key shifts and recurring motifs (e.g., cherry trees in flower, geraniums, a purple lipstick, silkworms, the name “Hans”, a tambourine). The first section is set just after the end of WWII and introduces the major spine of the story: a lifelong friendship between two boys named Gustav and Anton that begins on their first day of kindergarten. In this section, the reader immediately starts noticing some things that seem off. What’s up with Gustav’s widowed mother, Emilie? Why is she so cold toward Gustav? Why doesn’t she like his new friend? What happened to Gustav’s father, Erich? Was he a war hero? Why does Emilie insist on training Gustav to master his emotions and be neutral, “like Switzerland”? Just as these questions start piling up, Tremain ends her first “movement” and begins her next. Like a change in musical keys, her presentation of the story also shifts here from past to present tense. In this second section, Tremain leaves the story of young Gustav and Anton and goes back to the lead-up to WWII to tell Emilie and Erich’s story. I usually don’t like this sort of chopping up of a story and moving backward and forward in time, but Tremain does it very well and never confuses her readers. Some major questions are answered, but not all. We start to learn why things are the way they are in the first section, but some questions are still left for the last section. In the final third, the story jumps forward to the 1990’s and shifts key again to the past tense. Gustav and Anton are now middle-aged and the reader understands the psychology of the characters. As the novel builds towards its climax, Gustav seems not just “neutral”, but almost zombie-like and sexually “neutered”. His mother is dying, his hotel business seems to be failing, and his lifelong friendship with Anton is disappearing, maybe permanently. All has grown grim and filled with despair, but the storytelling itself never becomes maudlin. (Tremain seems to know a thing or two about self-restraint herself.) As a result, I was positive I’d make it to the end without getting even the slightest bit misty-eyed. And, I almost did. But then there was that unexpected ending and, oh man... She totally did me in with those last dozen paragraphs. WARNING: May induce nightmares in former piano students with PRSD (Post Recital Stress Disorder). 4.5 stars

  • Katie
    2019-03-03 04:02

    The predominant theme of this novel is the containment of strong emotion. Whenever someone attempts to make his or her feelings known disappointment seems the inevitable consequence. Fitting then that it is set in a small town in Switzerland, the home of neutrality. However the country’s position of neutrality is severely tested during WW2 when many fleeing Jews cross her borders. This novel is all about those moments when a position of emotional restraint is severely tested and no longer possible. Also at the heart of the novel is the nature of the sonata, a musical form containing three movements of conflicting emotional moods, classified in one particular example as “the goodbye, the absence and the return”. The narrative begins in 1947. Gustav is five, living in impoverished conditions and can’t win the love of his mother who always smells of cheese, thanks to her job at the local Emmental factory (A sidenote, emmental gets my vote for the worst cheese ever manufactured. Only inside a baguette with jamon while sitting in the Jardin du Luxembourg does it not taste like processed vomit to me!). Gustav knows next to nothing about his father except that he is dead and a hero. But because Gustav’s mother isn’t a trustworthy voice we’re dubious about the nature of this heroism. Especially when we learn this act of heroism led to the family’s impoverishment. And when we find out she doesn’t like Jews we begin to suspect his heroism might have involved some reprehensible act in his role as assistant police chief towards the Jews entering Swizterland. As in all good mysteries Tremain is tremendously clever in disclosing only teasers, at encouraging us to read between the lines. Part two flashes back to the war years, before Gustav was born, and we encounter a pivotal moment when Gustav’s father, angry at her refusal to educate herself about the war, pushes his wife and she falls and loses her child. From this point on, Gustav’s mother becomes a woman without qualities – the portrait of her is very harsh – while his father is chastened into a better version of himself. The central narrative though concerns the friendship of Gustav and Anton. The surface of this novel is great. The writing is tremendously easy on the eye. It’s a novel you can skip through. I was though a little confused about what was going on beneath the surface – what it was actually trying to say. I suppose it never really takes any position, mirroring the neutrality of Switzerland. It does a good job of showing characters buffeted by blasts too forceful to resist but for me it was set up much better than it was concluded. Its concluding tidiness perhaps not quite ringing true. I really enjoyed reading it; upon finishing it I was a little confused why. This could well be a flaw in my mental capabilities though.

  • PorshaJo
    2019-02-24 10:12

    This one was quite different from what I expected, but in a good way. The Gustav Sonata is told from three different perspectives. Part one where Gustav is a small child and he meets his life-long friend Anton. But he learns some life lessons during this time that stick with him. Being alone, surviving at 10 years old. Part two goes back in time where you learn how Gustav came to be and how his mother became the uncaring, unloving mother that she is. I must say that I found Gustav's father both horrible and beautiful. On one hand, he does the most rewarding, selfless act that a human can do. Then, he shows how he puts himself first and how greedy, and disgusting he is. It's quite fascinating. Finally, the third part shows Gustav as an older man in his 50's and bringing things back to his friend Anton.Each part in the story was so different by tied in so nicely. I liked them best in the order they appeared. I could have heard so much more of the antics of young Gustav and Anton. This one is not really a story about WW2. There is a small part of it here, but most of it takes place after the war. A lovely book more about the man Gustav and how life events shaped him. I listened to this one via audio and the narration was great.I must add, I do not recall reading any books set in Switzerland and it was simply wonderful. Switzerland holds a special place in my heart as that is where I spent my honeymoon. It was nice to have this one bring back the places - Bern and the bear pits. Glad that I finally read this one. The title and cover really captivated me.

  • Helene Jeppesen
    2019-02-23 07:02

    This is a really beautiful and fragile story about Gustav and Anton who become best friends as five-year-olds. It's a story about their friendship, but it's also a story about the twists and turns life can take and how your destiny can change when you choose the wrong path. I loved how this book takes place in Switzerland, and for the most part during the cold autumnal and wintry months. It added to the cold and reflective atmosphere that is prevalent throughout this novel. The first part in which we get to meet Gustav and learn about his growing friendship with Anton was the strongest, in my eyes. We then go back in time to learn about Gustav's parents, which was a very important part but not as special. The ending of the book was enchanting, yet heart-breaking, and Rose Tremain makes sure to wrap up their two lives beautifully over the span of only 240 pages.Overall, I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this before. Its ambiance and its themes were something special and I definitely recommend it!

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    2019-03-09 07:17

    This is not a World War II novel. Some of it is set during World War II but that isn't what the book is about. I'm saying this because I came across several negative reviews that harped on this fact alone. In Part I, we are introduced to Gustav as a boy. His mother tells him on page two to master himself, and throughout the novel we can see the importance placed on decorum, non-reaction, self-control. When Gustav befriends Anton, a piano prodigy, he does not quite understand his mother's chilly demeanor towards Anton and his family. Neither does the reader. In Part II, Tremain takes us back in time to see how Gustav's parents met, and why his mother might feel the way she does (right or wrong.) Part III moves far into the future, with Gustav in his 1950s, still in relation to the characters already introduced.I have meant to read Tremain for a long time, and felt like the placement of this book on the Bailey's Women's Prize Longlist gave me the perfect opportunity. So it didn't make the shortlist; I still wanted to read it. What I loved about her writing is that it is simple, not flowery, not dense. But she is able to capture so much about how one person exists in relation to another in a few words, that I found myself invested in these imperfect people living in the consequences of their actions. Music is clearly also a theme, and I do love a novel that talks about music. Here it connects some of the characters, and of course the three parts are a clear tribute to sonata form. When Anton mentions his favorite Beethoven sonatas, I of course listened to them as I finished reading the book.

  • Julie Christine
    2019-03-09 10:54

    Rose Tremain amazes me. I haven't always enjoyed her narratives, but I never ceased to be awed by the breadth and depth of her subject matter, the fearlessness of her approach, and the sheer elegance of her writing. The Gustav Sonata exemplifies what she does so well: writing in a tone and rhythm that perfectly capture the spirit of the place, people, and history framing her story. The Gustav Sonata is a novel in three parts. The first shows the meeting of Gustav and Anton, two young misfits in pasteurized, homogenized Switzerland several years after the end of WWII; the second takes us to pre-war Switzerland and the ill-fated marriage of Gustav's mother Emilie and his father, Erich Perle; the final movement circles back to Gustav as an adult. Gustav, a lonely child, makes fast friends with Anton, but his mother's resentment of the boy is barely concealed. The reader understands it's because Anton is a Jew, but neither we nor Gustav understand the reason for her contempt until the story develops. And Gustav must wait years before the enigma that is Emilie is finally resolved. It is a novel of how the political becomes personal.Switzerland closed its borders to Jewish refugees in the early years of the war, but the displaced and hunted continued to enter, not a few with the help of police commandant who falsified papers. Tremain's fictional policeman, Gustav's father, and his mother become the two sides of a supposedly neutral country that did not escape moral dilemmas by declaring itself above the conflict. Gustav grows up without a father; his life with Emilie is marked by privation and loneliness, hunger and bewilderment. His mother, still young, is embittered and broken. She admonishes Gustav to "master" himself, to become a replica of his homeland, where excessive emotion and hairs out-of-place are an affront to one's nationality. And Gustav heeds her words. Yet underneath the surface, he is a boy, then a man, in crisis. Tremain is unafraid to write unhappiness, something I can't say about many of her American contemporaries. She doesn't try to make reason out of madness or infuse sentimentality into history. And what could be more topical and relevant than an examination of Switzerland during WWII? When do we call out the ethics of neutrality, of turning our backs on those displaced by war and poverty? When do we admit that indifference is a moral failing?But this story, though grim, muted and dark, is not wholly without beauty and redeeming moments of joy and compassion. I'm so very glad to have read it, for its beautiful language, rich characters, challenging questions, and fully-realized story. Rose Tremain remains one of my favorite writers, not well-enough known on this side of the Pond, so I will continue to sign her praises, loudly.

  • Connie
    2019-03-13 04:10

    It's post-war Switzerland where Gustav Perle lives with his emotionally distant mother, Emilie. Although Gustav is a thoughtful, loving son, his love is never reciprocated by his mother. There are events in Emilie's life that have crippled her emotionally. In kindergarten Gustav begins a lifelong friendship with Anton, a talented Jewish pianist. Gustav takes on the role of the kind, caring friend as the young pianist is troubled with stage fright.The second section of the sonata takes us back a decade to World War II when Switzerland was a neutral country. Jews were streaming into Switzerland, but the country cut off the immigration in 1938 to avoid angering Hitler. Gustav learns that his deceased father was in a difficult position at that time. He could lose his job as an assistant police chief, or send the Jews back to Nazi territory and probable death camps. Reasons for Emilie's bitterness and anti-Semitism are revealed.The book jumps ahead to the 1990s in the third section of the sonata. Gustav is still searching for the love of a parent, and befriends some older adults. Anton is involved with new musical challenges and a new relationship, but with tragic consequences. Gustav is called upon again to help. The strong ties between Gustav and Anton have survived over fifty years.Although many of the events in the book are sad and bleak, the story held my interest because it was so well-written. The character of Gustav's father was partially based on a brave Swiss police chief, Paul Grueninger, who saved the lives of many Jews but ruined his own life. There is a lot of food for thought in the story about the difficult position of neutrality. Rose Tremain writes beautifully, and I would love to read another of her novels.

  • Chrissie
    2019-03-02 07:09

    This book says very little about Switzerland's treatment of Jews during the Second World War. It can be summed up in one sentence: because the Swiss feared Germany would invade if they offered a safe-haven to Jews they stopped them from entering the country after August 18, 1938. In the story, one character, an assistant chief of police, by falsifying documents could help some Jews remain in the country. Knowing this is not a spoiler. The story is divided into three parts. In the first section, two young boys are six years old and meet in school. One is Jewish. Then the story backtracks and tells about their parents. Why? So the reader better understands the cold, unfeeling demeanor of one of the boys' mothers and the aspirations of the other boy's parents. The third portion covers events when the boys have become men in their fifties. What are they doing? Where do they live? What have they made of their lives? This is primarily a book about relationships - between husband and wife, between two schoolboys later to become men and between children and parents. It focuses on extramarital sex, love/friendship between same sexed partners and ill persons with aberrant sexual behavior. I felt the author threw in some of the sex episodes for shock value; some of these scenes played in no way a central part of the story and could have easily been removed. A second theme is "stage fright" or performance anxiety.I had a hard time with the characters. I wanted to shake just about all of them. I felt no empathy for any of them. It is much easier to forgive rotten behavior if you empathize, and as I said, I didn't. If you feel nothing for the characters, how can you get involved in the story?The writing is terse, explicit, almost clinical and without any warmth. Sure, you understand everything but there is no beauty, no charm, nothing that captivates you. Humor is not part of this book.There is little about the physical landscape of Switzerland. Swiss neutrality is not adequately delved into; there is no discussion of the fact that the country is a divided land of French, Italian and German communities. The audiobook is narrated by Mark Meadows, and very well done. Perfect speed. You could hear who was speaking from the different intonations. There is more German than French spoken but both were well done. The setting is predominantly, Matzingen, Switzerland, which is in the German speaking part of Switzerland.Sorry for this boring review. I simply cannot get excited in telling you of this story. It left me unmoved, disappointed and exasperated. I didn’t have a fit and dump it; I kept reading, so I gave it two stars. I guess it was OK.

  • Hugh
    2019-03-23 05:08

    Tremain chose to set her latest novel in Switzerland, exploring the complicity that enabled the country to remain neutral during World War Two. There is plenty of music in this book, which is a novel in sonata form. Against this backdrop she has constructed a touching story of friendship and love. We will be discussing this book later this month in the 21st Century Literature group.The first section explores the childhood of Gustav from 1947 to 1952. He is the child of a widowed mother Emilie, and lives a somewhat impoverished existence which is contrasted with that of his best friend Anton, a musical prodigy whose father is a rich Jewish banker. Emilie is cold towards Gustav and does not trust Anton's family.In the second part we move back to 1937, where Emilie marries Erich, who has an important position in the local police. When the Bern government passes an edict forbidding the acceptance of Jews after a certain date, he agrees to falsify the entry dates for some Jewish refugees, and loses his job when this is uncovered. (view spoiler)[Emilie leaves him and he embarks on an affair with his boss's wife Lottie. When Emilie returns there is a brief reconciliation resulting in Gustav's birth before Erich dies of heart failure on Lottie's doorstep. (hide spoiler)]The third part covers a longer time-span from 1992 to 2002. Erich has become the proprietor of a small but successful hotel, which fails to impress his mother, while Anton is working as a music teacher. His piano playing is discovered by the owner of a classical record label who invites him to Geneva to record Beethoven's sonatas. The rest of the book explores the disruption this causes to Gustav's well-ordered life.This edition comes with an author's afterword, which explains how it evolved from a short story which was just a small part of the final section. The story of the police official was taken from a real life story. It also explains how she wanted the book to be enjoyed on a number of different levels.On the whole I found this a rewarding read full of quiet pleasures.

  • Peter Boyle
    2019-03-03 06:00

    This book has been on my radar for a while, and when it made it the Baileys Prize longlist I felt it was finally time to check it out. The Irish Times critic Eileen Battersby (who is notoriously difficult to impress) has already proclaimed it a worthy winner of the award, and one of the finest British novels of recent years. My hopes could not have been higher.It's 1947 when we first meet a five-year-old Gustav Perle, in the sleepy Swiss town of Matzlingen. He shares a tiny apartment with his mother Emilie, his father Erich having died suddenly a few years before. There is very little joy in his life. His only toy is a tin train and Emilie is inexplicably cold towards him, but he is a resilient and kind little fellow. Then one day at school he meets Anton Zweibel. The self-centred, sensitive Anton is in many ways the opposite of Gustav - he comes from a wealthy, loving family and has dreams of becoming a concert pianist. But the two boys quickly become best pals. This friendship opens up a whole new world for Gustav but it also causes him to question his own situation. Why is his mother so sad? What really happened to his father? And what will he do with his life?The story, much like a sonata, is told in three movements. After being introduced to young Gustav in the first, we flash back to Emilie & Erich's courtship in the second part, and learn what became of their marriage. The final section takes place in the 1990s - with a much older Gustav and Anton still fast friends but leading very different lives.Gustav is a very likeable character. He's an incredibly thoughtful and caring person, someone who puts the well-being of everybody else before himself. But because of his austere upbringing he denies himself a chance at happiness. Emilie always impressed upon him as a child that he had to "master himself." He was never allowed to show emotion and gradually became been drained of all passion. "You have to be like Switzerland," she tells him. "You have to hold yourself together and be courageous, stay separate and strong." Years later he has developed into an anxious and unadventurous individual. But he eventually realises that he has one way out of this lonely life and that he must risk everything to claim it.I enjoyed The Gustav Sonata but I'm a little bemused by the overwhelming praise it has received. Though I rooted for poor Gustav the whole way through, the story felt a bit routine for me. I also found the rosy ending too neat and I'm not really sure that it was earned - one character seems to change his feelings with the flick of a switch. But where this book excels is in its depiction of true friendship: its happy rewards and its challenging sacrifices. It is an undeniably moving tale from a writer of great empathy and compassion.

  • Susan Johnson
    2019-03-10 06:18

    There are some books that just sing to you and this is one for me. It is beautifully written and tells the story of two boys' life-time friendship in the aftermath of WWII in Switzerland. Thrown together in kindergarten the boys bond in ways that save each of them.Gustav has a cold mother and spends his life trying to make her love him. He picks up other mother figures along the way to help him survive. His father, a disgraced former assistant police chief, dies when Gustav is quite young. The father's back story is incredibly brave and touching. Anton is a child piano prodigy with two loving Jewish parents. Anton suffers from disabling stage fright.My thanks to Net Galley for this book in exchange for a review. Gustav is poor and Anton's family takes him places and shows him a different way of life. They also show him that families are capable of love and caring. Gustav emotionally supports Anton in his endeavors. This is a wonderful story that touched my life immensely. We all need love wherever we may find it.

  • Karen
    2019-03-07 06:02

    “He knew that, in spite of everything, he still loved her. In some part of himself, he’d always believed that his mother couldn’t die before she’d learned to love him. As he’d got older, he’d tried to teach her how to do this before it was too late but he hadn’t succeeded.” This is a melancholy story that begins in a small town in Switzerland, beginning during the days of World War II when Gustav is 5 years old. This is basically the story of his life, ending when he is in his 60’s. Gustav is a sympathetic character, a gentle soul and caring peacekeeper, a champion. His relationships and struggles with the people who should have been the most reliable tugged at my heart; a mother he adores but who is indifferent to him, his lifetime best friend who appears to be a friend only when it suits him. Will Gustav tire of people letting him down? I don’t want to say more about the plot as I think it helps to not know much going in. There is depth in this memorable story and its characters, but gosh, I don’t like being depressed when reading a book. It tore me up. Bright moments in Gustav's life were few. Even in his successes, which should have been celebrated, I felt had a sad undertone. 3.5 stars rounded up.Thanks to publisher W.W. Norton and Company for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  • Gemma
    2019-03-12 09:21

    There’s so much complex conflict going on in this novel and yet it’s extremely easy to read. This is achieved initially by using the perspective of a child. Gustav’s mother doesn’t love him. No matter how hard he tries he can’t get any kind of loving response from her. His father has died mysteriously during the war. He was assistant police inspector of a small town in Switzerland. Gustav’s mother refers to him as a hero. One day Gustav befriends a Jewish boy Anton who comes to his school. It soon becomes clear Gustav’s mother doesn’t like Jews. The implication is they had something to do with her husband’s fall from grace and eventual death. Did he help them or did he hinder them? The narrative cleverly holds back this information. What follows is the story of Gustav and Anton’s friendship until old age with a flashback section to Switzerland during WW2, explaining why his mother is so cold hearted. I found this a beautiful book, immensely engaging. Perhaps the mystery of Gustav’s father was a bit low key but one of the joys of this book was that it’s about ordinary people doing their best to make way in the world without melodramatic fictional devices.

  • Amanda
    2019-03-02 04:15

    I listened to this book all in one go on a long car ride home from VA. I was a bit disappointed in it because so many of my friends have given it 4 and 5 stars. It's not that I didn't like it I just didn't care about the characters or the story. And I really didn't like he ending. I did like the narrative timeline and the overall structure of the novel. I don't have to like characters but I have to feel something for them in order for a book to work for me.

  • Britta Böhler
    2019-03-13 08:19

    Beautiful little book about the life of two boys, growing up in a small village in post-war Switzerland.

  • Liz
    2019-02-26 12:16

    Switzerland, 1947: A lifelong friendship begins when Gustav Perle takes Anton Zweibel under his wing on his first day of kindergarten. Contrary to Gustav’s life with a mother incapable of expressing affection, Anton has a ready supply of love and encouragement from his doting parents but he’s having hard time adjusting to a new home. These two boys, from two very different backgrounds, will rescue each other with their companionship. Those early days of Gustav and Anton are what touched me the most… intensely endearing, but also heartbreaking because Gustav so clearly longs for the kind of family that Anton has. The middle of the book takes us back to the years during WWII to Gustav’s mother Emilie and his father Erich, when they met and married. Here the author explores the moral conundrum faced when weighing the threat of German invasion against saving the lives of Jewish families fleeing to Switzerland to avoid the death camps. Erich Perle will make a choice that he believes in, but one from which there is no turning back. I struggled with whether to give this book three or four stars because there are so many themes and layers that it might be a bit too ambitious and slightly muddled. However, the story and the writing definitely had that certain something that kept me emotionally engaged and continuing to reflect when it was over. On finishing The Gustav Sonata, it occurs to me that the sweet and melancholy nature of this composition is truly encompassed in the name.

  • Dianne
    2019-02-21 11:53

    I loved this! Review to come.....

  • Suzy
    2019-02-26 06:54

    The Gustav Sonata is a moving, quiet novel of love and friendship set in Switzerland. Switzerland! I'm not sure that I've read a book that takes place there before, and I appreciate how Tremain portrays the Swiss cultural values of neutrality and self-mastery in her story of the life of Gustav Perle. I kept asking myself why this was titled The Gustav Sonata, a question that was answered very late in the book in words. But it occurred to me that the answer is also found in the structure of the novel. Gustav Perle's story is told in three movements, much as in a beautifully orchestrated piece of music. Part One takes place between 1947 and 1952. Gustav is five and living with his mother in less than ideal circumstances in the small city of Matzlingen where most of the novel is set. We learn his father died in the build up to WWII and left the two with very little to live on. The bright spot in Gustav's life is his friend Anton, a child prodigy pianist, whom he meets in kindergarten. Anton's family has just moved to Matzlingen so his father could take a job in a local bank, and they welcome Gustav into their family, knowing how much his friendship means to Anton . . . but perhaps not knowing exactly how much the friendship means to Gustav. Part Two takes place between 1937 and 1942. Here we learn of how Gustav's parents met, of their marriage, Gustav's birth and ultimately how Gustav's father died. Many questions that arise in Part One are answered here, and Part Two creates a dramatic context for what came before and what comes after.Part Three, well I'll let you discover where Part Three takes the story on your own. In the backdrop of The Gustav Sonata is the build-up to and the aftermath of WWII, the plight of Jews throughout the region, Switzerland's insistence on neutrality and the terrible consequences of that insistence at this time in history. In the foreground is how all of this affects the town of Matzlingen and its inhabitants. What elevates this novel is the juxtaposition of the very human needs, desires and emotions of love, fame, friendship, compassion, prejudice, fear, passion, self-control, cruelty, endurance, trust, respect and security. A multi-layered, nuanced and ultimately poignant novel, that at first I thought might be a little too precious, but that I quickly found to be very satisfying.

  • Maria Chnoic
    2019-02-24 08:17

    “‘So you see,' she said, ‘you have to be like Switzerland. Do you understand me? You have to hold yourself together and be courageous, stay separate and strong. Then, you will have the right kind of life.”The first book I finished in 2018 and my first Rose Remain though not my last. Forgive me if I have this wrong (as I don’t actually know anything about classical music) but I imagine that this book is written in three parts to reflect the three movements of a Sonata. Each part/movement has its own themes.Part one is post WWII and is about Gustav’s childhood friendship with Anton. It’s fundamentally about growing up in a neutral world where there appears to be no hate but no love either. “He fell over frequently, but he never cried, though the ice was hard, the hardest surface his bones had ever met. He taught himself to laugh instead. Laughing was a bit like crying. It was a strange convulsion; it just came from a different bit of your mind. The trick was to move the crying out of that bit and let the laughter in. And so he'd pick himself up and carry on, laughing.” Part two happen just prior to a during WWII. It tells of Gustav’s parents and is about sex, passion, fear, doing the right thing and holding onto to love where you can find it. Part three is about the 1990s and is about all of the surviving generations growing old. These are mostly broken people who in turn live broken lives but do the best they can and occasionally find love. “Gustav waited. He wondered whether he wanted to know the thing she was about to tell him, or whether it wasn't better for certain knowledge to remain hidden, so that the mind could conjure its own stories from out of the past, stories it could bear to live with, stories which, in time, took on their own reality and seemed to become true.” Overall the story is Gustav’s journey in search of love and happiness. This one is recommended to those who can follow a quiet introverted character who holds himself together like Switzerland. So like Switzerland Gustav cannot embrace his friends or face his enemies and as a consequence really doesn’t do much with his life except to feel and live it deeply. I listened to this on audio and would really like to recommend the narrator Mark Meadows.

  • Vivek Tejuja
    2019-03-10 08:57

    I don’t know how to begin this review. I will try. I will try to express what I feel – because what I feel about this book cannot really be put in words. “The Gustav Sonata” is one of those books that you keep coming back to after you have finished reading it. Not entirely, but in bits and pieces – to comprehend not the story but just to know that life works mysteriously sometimes and you cannot do much about it but live it for what it is. I picked up this book on a whim. It was just one of those days when I entered Wayword and Wise and knew that I had to pick this one up. It was there – begging for my attention. When a book does that, you know you will love it, no matter what. The book is set in a small town in Switzerland. World War II has ended but the effects remain, though not as much in this town. Gustav Perle grows up in this town and is certain of only one thing: He loves his mother who on the other hand is cool and distant with her son, never loving him, never showing him how she feels. Gustav’s only friend is the music prodigy Anton whom he adores. Anton just takes Gustav for granted since kids and well into adulthood. The story starts when they are children in 1947 and ends in 2002 when they are sixty, covering a gamut of explorations, emotions and what it means to be human. The book is not only about their friendship, or about Gustav’s dead father or just the past and how it impacts the present and the future, but also about coming to terms with life and living it in its full glory or not. It is about a country that chose to be neutral and the impact that had on its citizens. “The Gustav Sonata” is a big book with a big heart. It is delicate, sensible and asks the bigger questions of loyalty, betrayal, heartbreak and self-mastery in a way that no other book I’ve read has. It struck a chord in me in so many places. There were times I could not stop highlighting in the book – all I can say is that you must not let this year go by without reading this book. It will for sure change you in more than one way.

  • Sofia
    2019-02-28 10:10

    4.5 starsI spent the whole book eager to see how things were going to sort themselves out, whilst enjoying myself enormously in Tremain hands. I almost gave up, really, I told myself, yes this is apparently how it's going to end and then wow, about bloody time, Ms Tremain, about bloody time.Totally enjoyed the the quiet, pragmatic ebb and flow of the story, the first part made me eager for more. The second part filled in the gaps and the third part made me think I was going nowhere whilst in fact I was going to a magnificent end.Ms Tremain bases part of her story on how Switzerland handled the Jewish refugee crises before WWII broke out. How it tried to sit on the fence so to speak. How it tried to help the refugees and keep Germany appeased at the same time in order that Germany not invade Switzerland as well. A thought came to mind. We are going through another refugee crisis in Europe and our decisions too try to straddle national interest and refugee interest. I hope that we learn from the past and make the right decisions. Guilt and regret for wrong decisions just make for more wrong actions to be taken.More on Switzerland/Refugees/WWII here.Fits into slot 35. of my reading challenge - A book set in a hotel - because a good part of the novel is set in a hotel and the hotel is a silent character in the novel.

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-01 09:06

    What a brilliant, beautiful book. Set in Switzerland across most of the 20th century, it follows a boy named Gustav and the stories of those closest to him. Like stereotypes of Switzerland, the prose is precise, clean, and elegant - which, of course, only highlights its powerful currents of emotion. A quiet novel about longing, regret, and friendship. How this wasn't shortlisted for the Baileys Prize is beyond me.

  • Barbara
    2019-03-12 04:02

    4.5 starsGustav Perle's story is a sad one. He grew up in a small town in Switzerland, a town he never left. Born during the Second World War, Gustav's father, was an Assistant Police Commissioner in the town, who died an untimely death. His mother Emilie is a bitter woman, and they lead a life of poverty. In kindergarten, Gustav befriends Anton, an introverted boy from a Jewish family. The families prosperous life style, and religion/ethnicity, sets Gustav's mother against them. She is deeply anti-semitic and blames Jewish refugees to Switzerland for her husband's death.The book moves back and forth between the 1930's and 1990's. Gustav admits that he is perhaps afraid to leave Switzerland. He has swallowed whole the ideas of Swiss identity, neutrality, and superiority. Why would he go anywhere else? He leads a sad life, full of hard work, with few days of delight and little love. His father loved him, but his mother was very cold and unloving.This is the story of lives lived with too much and too little ambition. There is little love in Gustav's lives, but abundant love in the lives of other characters. It raises questions about isolationism and what a nation and its people lose when they embrace this stance. While the portrayal of some aspects of Swiss life are indeed negative, the lyrical beauty of the mountains and alpine communities come through. A highly readable and worthwhile novel.

  • Ellie M
    2019-03-24 06:56

    Loved this! Beautifully written account of a friendship between to boys and their journey to adulthood. Love, in its many forms, is the central theme. Gustav is a young boy living in Switzerland, living with his cold hearted mother and the memory of his father. When he starts kindergarten he's told to help look after Anton who is upset. A friendship is formed. Anton, though, is Jewish, and Gustav's mother doesn't like Jewish people because of what happened during the war and the choices her husband made when trying to help Jewish people who sought refuge in Switzerland in the early days of the War before Switzerland, under (a perceived) threat of invasion by Hitler's Germany closed their borders to refugees (I might not have the history entirely accurate but I know Switzerland were neutral in WW2). Despite his mother's opinion a strong friendship is formed between the boys in these post war years. Gustav seeks refuge from his difficult life, and spend time at the home of Anton. Anton seeks an escape from his parents desire for him to be a concert pianist. Their friendship continues to develop and as the story proceeds we get a greater insight into the back story of the relationship between Gustav's parents.The story is told over a 50 year period, flitting back and forth, and the ending is just lovely. Well worth a read.

  • Lisa Vegan
    2019-02-28 06:22

    I read this book as a seasonal group read for one of my GR groups, though so far there isn’t any discussion in the thread. I suppose there could be a lot to discuss about this book.2-1/2 stars. I thought I’d be rounding up but by the last chapter realized I wanted to round down. 2 not 3.It’s too bad. I thought this would be my kind of book. The story and characters and themes are the kind that usually greatly appeal to me. Unfortunately, almost everything good I have to say I can also add something negative to say.The book has a high average rating at GR but most of my GR friends have rated it lower than its average. I still thought I’d like it better than I did. I wouldn’t have read it otherwise. (I’m at a stage where I want to love or really like all my books, so 5 or 4 star books. Even liking, 3 stars, isn’t enough for me. 2 stars, just okay, to almost liking it in this case, was a disappointment.)After part 1 it was nearly a 4 star book for me so I had hopes. After part 2 it was almost a 3, and I thought I’d be giving it a 3. Toward and at the very end it dropped into 2 territory again. I did enjoy the writing style and I’m willing to try other books by this author, as long as the subject matter appeals to me.This was too much of a soap opera for my tastes. I found much of the story bizarre and the characters exasperating.I did feel as though the times and places were captured well and that while it wasn’t quite serious enough historical fiction for me, what was there did give me some pleasure. I’m surprised that I had such a hard time fully understanding and feeling empathy for the characters, and by the end that pertained to virtually all of them. I think the symbolism it aimed for was more than it deserves, and it was trying to be deeper than it ever got, and the whole thing ended up feeling unbelievable to me. That’s rare for me when I read books; I’m usually just not that critical and almost always find depth, sometimes more than most see, and I almost always feel sympathy for characters when some other reviewers are critical. In fact, I often cringe when other readers are critical of characters, as I typically can rush to their defense. Not here, not enough anyway.In a way the characters all make sense because of their backgrounds, but not really. The whole trying to show how people can be impacted by their difficult backgrounds and pass on their traumas to future generations should have resonated with me, but the characters felt like caricatures to me. Nobody changes or gets past their backgrounds in even the teeniest ways?! Really?! The central friendship, when the pair were adults at least, also didn’t ring true for me. Every time I liked someone for some reason, they then said something/behaved in some way that had me liking them less or not at all. I felt annoyed and perplexed by these people. Because I found myself in the critical camp, an unusual place for me to be, I found the reading experience to be somewhat depressing. So even though the writing is good and I got a good feel for places/times, and the author attempts to show why the people are as they are, it was almost impossible for me to like any of them, at least the adults. Good issues story for reading about performance anxiety/stage fright, postpartum depression, childhoods deprived of love, poverty, loyalty and betrayal in relationships, and exploring the feelings of rage, depression, jealousy, and regret. I did enjoy the parts about and what was said about the game of gin rummy. That was fun, and I think true too.I did remain interested enough to want to read to the end. What I think was meant to emotionally move me did not.Off to read some other reviews over the next days to see what I might have missed.

  • Robert Blumenthal
    2019-02-22 09:12

    I've been a fan of Rose Tremain for years now, and once again she delivers big time in her latest novel. This one is a rather gentle novel, with Tremain's trademark flurries of lurid sidebars. It is essentially a love story of intense friendship between two men in Switzerland beginning just before the 2nd World War. Gustav and Anton meet in kindergarten and become lifelong friends. Their friendship goes through its ups and downs, the book ending when they are in their sixties. Anton pursues a life of music, trying to cope with a lifelong fear of performance; Gustav becomes the owner of a hotel. The life of Gustav's parents are explored, with the issue of desperate German Jews trying to get into Switzerland after a decree preventing this for occurring. Gustav's father plays a major part in all this.The book basically explores Gustav and Anton's relationship, as well as Gustav's troubled relationship with his mother and his desperate attempt to feel comfortable in her love or lack of it. The prose isn't poetic or flowery, but it is a beautiful book nonetheless. I especially found the ending to be lovely, heartfelt and complete.