The Kreutzer Sonata
by Margriet de Moor


Arcade Publishing, NY, originally published in Netherlands under the name Kreutzersonate in 2001, first English translation published / copyrighted in 2005. ISBN 1559707445.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 10/24/2005

Fiction: Historical

Dutch author, Margriet de Moor is the author of eight novels including The Duke of Egypt and Virtuoso, both of which now join The Kreutzer Sonata in English-language translations. She resides in Amsterdam. Her books are international bestsellers.

Tolstoy's novella and Janacek's sonata both bear the same name as this book: Kreutzer. Margriet de Moor weaves an intricate tale based on the premise of the novella, the emotional connection that novella has with the music in Janacek's music, and a handful of finely crafted characters for her own story.

A young musicologist, who remains unnamed throughout the book, is the narrator of this spiderweb of a story. When musicologist meets up with a renowned music critic by the name of Marius van Vlooten, their conversations carry the reader across the miles and years of their musical connection. The critic, blinded by his failed attempt to commit suicide over a failed relationship, and the musicologist travel to music festivals throughout the European cultural circuit. During their conversations en route to such events, the reader gains insight into the back story as well as the unfolding current story of van Vlooten's life.

As the story unfolds, the reader is given glimpses into the sightless life of van Vlooten - a life that, by virtue of his blindness, has resulted in an increased ability to use other senses in the absence of sight. The Tolstoy novella focuses on a tragic tale of love, deception, and loss. When Janacek wrote his sonata for four stringed instruments, the notes played out the same emotions as Tolstoy's words. The conductor of the string quartet tells his musicians to "humanize" the notes. And so, de Moor humanizes the condition as well as the notes for her readers. The reader comes to realize that the characters in this book are influenced by what is seen and unseen alike...and by what only the heart can hear and interpret - the language of music.

With the musicologist serving as his eyes, van Vlooten, who spent some ten or more years building a fortress against any future love interest, meets one of the members of the stringed quartet playing Janacek's sonata - Suzanna, the first violinist. Eventually, Suzanna and van Vlooten marry but the marriage is doomed by the ghosts of van Vlooten's past. He suspects that his wife is having an affair with another member of the quartet - as was the plot in the Tolstoy novella. From the first moment of suspicion, van Vlooten's life unravels in a tragic and sometimes unpredicatable way.

Tolstoy, Janacek and de Moor all collide to create a sparse yet insightful study of the human condition in all of its fraility. Eventually, van Vlooten realizes that he and he alone has ruined his life. The web of uncertainty, scorned love, and bitterness combined with the inability to allow himself to love freely and unconditionally all work against him and his relationship with Suzanna.

To this reader/writer, the story's end could easily be an ending to a scripted Twilight Zone episode. But, you will have to draw your own conclusions when you have read the last word and heard the last note of the Kreutzer Sonata.

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