09 May 2017

Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano by Andrea Avery

Summary from Goodreads:
Andrea, already a promising and ambitious classical pianist at twelve, was diagnosed with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis that threatened not just her musical aspirations but her ability to live a normal life. As Andrea navigates the pain and frustration of coping with RA alongside the usual travails of puberty, college, sex, and just growing-up, she turns to music—specifically Franz Schubert's sonata in B-flat D960, and the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein for strength and inspiration. The heartbreaking story of this mysterious sonata—Schubert’s last, and his most elusive and haunting—is the soundtrack of Andrea's story.

Sonata is a coming-of-age story that explores a “Janus-head miracle”—Andrea's extraordinary talent and even more extraordinary illness—in a manner reminiscent Brain on Fire and Poster Child. As the goshawk becomes a source of both devotion and frustration for Helen Macdonald in H Is for Hawk, so the piano comes to represent both struggle and salvation for Andrea in this extraordinary debut.

Sonata is a beautifully written, unflinching look at how a pianist has fought and accommodated her disease, even as it tried to close off her instrument. This is not Inspiration Lit. Avery doesn't triumph over adversity to nab a Juilliard scholarship, recording contract, and massive acclaim as a concert pianist. She allows us to see her anger, her loss at not being given a fair shake to see where her talent might take her before RA decided that she wasn't allowed to know if her joints would reliably function. That some days are good, some days are bad, and some days are awful. How being an adult with a chronic illness and disability impacted her relationships, romantic and otherwise. Mixed into Avery's story are the stories of Franz Schubert, a gifted composer ahead of his time who wrote the B-flat sonata that calls to her, and Paul Wittgenstein, a concert pianist who lost an arm in WWI.

Avery has a very nice writing style.  Straightforward but also illustrative without getting ornate. Someday, I hope she writes about being an English teacher, too, since she gives us a small glimpse into her life as an instructor and it sounds like she can give us some stories there, too.

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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