A former Soviet pianist of international renown, Suvorin committed career suicide when he developed a violent distaste for the sound of applause. This eccentric gentleman tells his life story to the novel's narrator over a series of coffee dates, punctuated by confessions, anecdotes, and rages as a strained friendship develops between the two men.
This novel is at once egoless, sly, profound, funny, authentic and utterly mysterious—without ever seeming to break a sweat ... An immense humility encompasses the novel. In a world that shouts, this book is a song played softly, and slowly ... Wondratschek’s story reveals itself to be entirely original and uncontrived. The contemporary nervous system of the average American (me) is unprepared for this book: It demands patient, sustained attention to be heard. To hurry through or expect to be 'entertained' is to entirely miss the point. If one is willing to linger in this novel’s final echo, the effect is worthwhile ... Wondratschek writes the way his hero plays.
... a novel so far outside the mainstream of literary fiction that I can’t recommend it to the casual reader. The story is about music, and the writing style is a meandering stream of consciousness — as if the text were composed according to musical logic rather than language rules ... Author Wolf Wondratschek’s writing style makes reading difficult. The narrative shifts from third person to first person and back again without quotation marks. Sometimes the narrator is speaking, sometimes Suvorin. Much of the time, I couldn’t tell which. In later sections, others speak in the first person. The reader has to go with the flow ... The novel is a translation from the German by Marshall Yarbrough. I am always tempted, when reading a translation, to blame linguistic discomfort on the transfer from one language to another. That argument doesn’t work here, however, in part because German and English are so similarly constructed and written, and in part because the English throughout flows so naturally ... it took me longer to read this book than other novels two to three times as long. I so often had to stop, go back, and reread to try to understand ... I finished reading the book doing as I’d done from the beginning: scratching my head.
Pensive, philosophically charged novel of old age and loss ... Wondratschek’s layered narrative reflects on language, art, politics, and history, and though nothing much happens in it, there is plenty to think about. Wondratschek even sneaks in a few jokes ... Readers with a bent for Thomas Mann and Elias Canetti will find this book a pleasure, if a somber one.