The Prague Sonata

Written by Beatriz Bradford Morrow Deborah Blum
Review by Jo Ann Butler

In 1939, the Nazis invade Prague and begin looting Czechoslovakia’s cultural treasures. Otylie Bártošova watches in dread, wondering how to protect an antique musical manuscript that her father called priceless. Otylie reasons that separated movements will lose their value, so she keeps one and gives the second to her husband, Jacub. The third goes to a friend, Irena, along with a note asking her to reunite the manuscript if she survives the war. However, people and manuscripts are flung widely by war’s upheaval.

Decades later, in New York City, the mortally ill Irena gives the note and the ancient music to Meta Taverner, a young woman who played a piano recital at Irena’s hospital. Though an injured hand ended her professional career, Meta is still a highly talented musician who recognizes brilliant composition when she reads it. It is clearly a three-part sonata, but what happened to the other movements? Meta is determined to reunite the score and reveal its familiar-sounding composer. The movements were last united in Prague, so that is where Meta begins her search.

The Prague Sonata is more than a superb multiperiod novel; it reads like a concerto by one of the masters. Themes and counterpoints intertwine, just as we follow Meta’s exciting leads and the schemes of the experts she consults. The melody passes seamlessly from one instrument to another, just as Bradford Morrow deftly transports us between WWII Prague and the vital city of today. Meta is the well-rounded, passionate soloist who waltzes us through The Prague Sonata under Morrow’s deft baton, and makes us fall in love with his literary artistry. Highly recommended.