I love reading books by Mark Salzman. He immersed himself in Asian cultures and writes about his experiences.
I heard him speak when I lived in CT and he was at Yale to talk about his first novel. He is an engaging speaker.
In this work, we enter another world, the world of musical child prodigies. I also learned more about the structure of classical music.
Renne Sundheimer, a former musical prodigy, who now teaches at a university in California. He has accepted the fact that he will no longer play at concert halls anymore and breathes but is not really living.
He is somewhat forced to take on a small, Korean boy prodigy. As he spends more time with Kyung-kee, he reflects on his life and thinks about how he can influence his student’s parents to allow Kyung-kee to have a well-rounded life.
Renee lets the reader know what is a true prodigy. “..someone in whom the emotions of music actually resonate and find expression at a very young age – is rare…I know from my own personal experience that the emotions in music are musical emotions, and develop according to their own rules of chemistry and experience. They resemble and strongly evoke the emotions we associate with profound life experiences, like sexual love or the death of a parent, but you don’t need to have those experiences to ‘feel’ the music properly.”
Renne’s last teacher was rather philosophical and the statements went over Renne’s heads. He tried not to teach Kyung-kee in that matter. Renne showed his student a book of buildings, and Kyung-kee exclaimed, “..Batman wouldn’t (play the cello) in the Batcave .. but he could have played cello when he was Bruce Wayne!..the Wayne mansion looks like music. It has candles and old rugs and shining armor in it!..Like Mozart! Fancy, with a fireplace! And your house looks like Bach,” he added. In the matched pair of bookcases on either side of the door, he was apparently reminded of the harmonic symmetry that Bach had perfected.”
There are other intersecting threads woven into this novel which adds many layers. It also reminds us that people need time to recover from a disappointment but that human interaction is needed to really live and not exist.