Self-portrait with Russian piano

Wolf Wondratschek, 1943-

Book - 2020

"A novel recounting the friendship between a young man and an old Russian pianist named Suvorin, who, over the course of several meetings, narrates his melancholy story"--

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FICTION/Wondrats Wolf
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New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2020.
First American edition
Item Description
Originally published in German in 2018 by Ullstein Verlag, Germany, as Selbstbild mit russischem Klavier.
Physical Description
pages cm
Main Author
Wolf Wondratschek, 1943- (author)
Other Authors
Marshall Yarbrough (translator)
Review by Library Journal Reviews

In this elegiac, deeply meditative work by distinguished German author Wondratschek, the narrator first encounters legendary Russian pianist Suvorin at a Viennese coffee house, and their friendship evolves over many subsequent conversations as Suvorin rambles through his memories. A prodigy who puzzled his native villagers, he eventually played major concert halls to thunderous applause he began to hate as more about the show of cheering than of what is being cheered—the music itself. The authorities are appalled—"Art, Comrade Suvorin, belongs to the people"—but advice from a stranger to "play what no one likes, then you won't get any applause" changes his life; he loses his audience with outrageously atonal work while enjoying Bach on his own. Yet in the end, he is a lonely old man, his wife dead and children remote, though still trying to find scraps of pleasure in life. Happiness is something you don't search for, Wondratschek reminds us, and we all wind toward death, the last "irrevocable folly of fate." VERDICT A thought-provoking study on the meaning of art and life; highly recommended. Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

German writer Wondratschek, best known for his 1969 novel When the Day Still Started With a Bullet Wound, returns with a tender character study of a wry and jaundiced former piano virtuoso. The unnamed narrator, a young Austrian man, has a chance meeting with Suvorin, a once-renowned Russian pianist, in a café in Vienna. They develop a yearslong routine of meeting at a nearby Italian restaurant. Suvorin reminisces about musicians he has known; his wife, who died in a tragic accident; and his favorite composers (especially Beethoven, whom he admires for his fearless individualism as much as for his musical genius). The narrator, whose own childhood dream of becoming an opera singer was thwarted by his engineer father, seems the perfect audience for the idiosyncratic Suvorin, who deplores applause and cherishes silence. When the narrator returns to the café after a year and a half, he's greeted by a new staff, none of whom have heard of the pianist, leading him to unsettling metaphysical thoughts that Suvorin might have emerged from his imagination, or was a ghost. The author writes about music with intimacy and tenderness, and peppers his narrative with delightful anecdotes of the foibles of high-art celebrities. Wondratschek's deeply felt meditation on the joys and sorrows of a life in music delivers the goods. (Sept.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The narrator recounts his series of coffee dates with an eccentric, sulky, old Russian pianist whose career ended when he developed a violent distaste for the sound of applause. 15,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"A novel recounting the friendship between a young man and an old Russian pianist named Suvorin, who, over the course of several meetings, narrates his melancholy story"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A legendary literary figure who initiated a one-man Beat Generation in his native Germany, Wolf Wondratschek “is eccentric, monomaniacal, romantic—his texts are imbued with a wonderful, reckless nonchalance.”* Now, he tells a story of a man looking back on his life in an honest Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man.Vienna is an uncanny, magical, and sometimes brutally alienating city. The past lives on in the cafes where lost souls come to kill time and hash over the bygone glories of the twentieth century—or maybe just a recent love affair. Here, in one of these cafes, an anonymous narrator meets a strange character, “like someone out of a novel”: a decrepit old Russian named Suvorin. A Soviet pianist of international renown, Suvorin committed career suicide when he developed a violent distaste for the sound of applause. This eccentric gentleman—sometimes charming, sometimes sulky, sometimes disconcertingly frank—knows the end of his life is approaching, and allows himself to be convinced to tell his life story. Over a series of coffee dates, punctuated by confessions, anecdotes, and rages—and by the narrator’s schemes to keep his quarry talking—a strained friendship develops between the two men, and it soon becomes difficult to tell who is more dependent on whom.Rhapsodic and melancholic, with shades of Vladimir Nabokov, W. G. Sebald, Hans Keilson, and Thomas Bernhard, Wolf Wondratschek's Self-Portrait with Russian Piano is a literary sonata circling the eternal question of whether beauty, music, and passion are worth the sacrifices some people are compelled to make for them.“A romantic in a madhouse. To let Wondratschek’s voice be drowned in the babble of today’s literature would be a colossal mistake.” —*Patrick Süskind, international bestselling author of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer