Summer sonata by Chaja Polak

Summer sonata by Chaja Polak

Dutch fiction

Translator – Susan Massotty

Chaja Polak is a dutch writer ,hidden by her family in world war two ,hiding with a famous french dutch artist .She then spent time in Israel after growing up ,then she travel settling in Rome  where she started writing in the late 80’s and then back in Amsterdam .She has published twelve novels in dutch .Now this was a chance find published in Dutch 1997 and translated in 1999 ,I happen to be in a second-hand shop in Sheffield earlier this year and saw her name ,I m great one for looking at books with names of writers I’m not familiar with . Then the cover really caught my eye as well and it was only two-pound for the hardback so I thought why not as I need a book or two for dutch lit month .

So summer sonata what is it about well at the heart of the story is elven year old Erwin a young man struggling at home ,with the impending changes in his body .He loved playing his cello hence the title of the book ,he has vowed never to grow up to stay eleven for ever .He enjoys his time at his cello teachers house ,the Bars the husband  teaches him and is also a composer as well  and the  wife gives him cups of tea and there is a niece That is the bones of the story it is a coming of age tale .But is it also something darker it is a bit up in the air as we see it through Erwin .

Every Wednesday afternoon ,after school ,he would take the tram to his cello lesson

It was only seven stops to the old villa where mr bar lived .His fourth floor flat had a music room with a grand piano stacks of exercise books .Scant daylight and a set of frosted glass door that opened onto the living room .where Mrs Bar ,her hair grey corkscrews would pour him a cup of tea when hid lesson had gone well .

We meet the Bars

Like many a good coming of age tales it is about struggle Erwin with his feeling and his desires as he transfers from child to teen  but also maybe about  how we view the world at that age .I suppose the first book that springs to mind is catcher in the rye and Erwin isn’t as wild as Holden he is a quiet character well drawn out in the 90 pages of this short novella by Chaja ,in fact if any character I would pick the narrator from stand by me you get similar feel he has things in his past and Erwin does but he also sees himself growing and maybe doesn’t want too .I was reminded about a line something in the film stand by me  about being ten but eleven the same and it being the best time of your life or the worst at the time and this is what we see in Erwin’s story .I can’t understand why this book isn’t better known I look for some mentions and turn up a blank it seems to have sunk without a trace ,so I’m pleased I found it as it is a little gem it is one of those books that peirene may have published if they’d been about at the time .I found Chaja write crisp Erwin seemed very real in my eyes ,the Bar family had a real feel of a music teacher family I was reminded of some one that taught me when young the creative household that seem so different to my own . .

Have you read this book ?

What small gems do you love ?

June 2012


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