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The Gustav Sonata

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  9,052 ratings  ·  1,047 reviews
Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem only a distant echo. An only child, he lives alone with Emilie, the mother he adores but who treats him with bitter severity. He begins an intense friendship with a Jewish boy his age, talented and mercurial Anton Zweibel, a budding concert pianist. The novel follows Gustav ...more
Hardcover, 241 pages
Published May 19th 2016 by Chatto Windus (first published May 2016)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  9,052 ratings  ·  1,047 reviews


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Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Gustav Perle lives with his mother in a small town in Switzerland. While the horrors of the Second World War are still a distant echo, Gustav makes the acquaintance of a little Jewish boy named Anton Zwiebel, initiating a friendship that is not supported by Gustav's openly anti-Semitic mother but nevertheless lasts a lifetime.

The Gustav Sonata can be broken down into three section, each with its virtues, th
...more
Diane S ☔
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
A beautifully written, albeit melancholy story about the friendship of two men who first met when they were young boys. Gustav and Anton first meet in kindergarten when Anton arrives crying pitifully. The teacher asks Gustav to take Anton under his care, which he does, offering the same advice his mother gives him and that is to "master himself."

This is the first book I have read set in Switzerland and when the backstory of Gustav's father is presented, during the war. Switzerland and its stance
...more
Elyse  Walters
Aug 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
"He thought that if he had been some other boy, he would have begun crying or at least whimpering by now, but he wasn't: he was Gustav Perle. He was going to
'master himself' --for the sake of his Mutti, for the sake of his dead father, for the sake of Anton, who cried too often, for the sake of a few beautiful things in the world, like the sun on a balcony in Davos".

Gustav was 5 years old at the start of this novel. He was poor...often cold, hungry.
He lived with his mother Emilie in Mitteland
...more
Iris P
The Gustav Sonata


What I most appreciate about The Gustav Sonata is how Rose Tremain tells a story that is at times cruel and morally complex and accomplishes this with surprising clarity and elegant simplicity.

This is a novel about relationships in all its different forms, about the heartbreak of unrequited love, about a country caught in a moral dilemma but, fundamentally, this is a story about two lifelong friends and how against all odds, their love endured the passage of time.

The year is 1
...more
Doug H - On Hiatus
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: advance-copy

This is only the third novel by Rose Tremain that I’ve read, but I’m already tempted to add her name to my short list of favorite writers. One of the things that I most admire about her as an author is her chameleon-like ability to change her colors with every novel she writes. She never repeats herself, but she always has a great story to tell and she always tells it well. I think my favorite of the three I’ve read so far is still Trespass (a modern Gothic set in a crumbling manor in the French
...more
Katie
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
The predominant theme of this novel is the containment of strong emotion. Whenever someone attempts to make his or her feelings known disappointment seems the inevitable consequence. Fitting then that it is set in a small town in Switzerland, the home of neutrality. However the country’s position of neutrality is severely tested during WW2 when many fleeing Jews cross her borders. This novel is all about those moments when a position of emotional restraint is severely tested and no longer possib ...more
Dem
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
A tale of Friendship and Love that fell short for me as I felt it lacked a sense of time and place and the story was unconvincing for me.

What is the difference between friendship and Love? A stroy of two boys growing up in a a small town in Switzerland just after the World War II. Gustav' s life is a lonely one until he meets Anton and a life long friendship develops.

I loved their first part of this novel as the characters and plot were beautifully set and I had high hopes for this book, but t
...more
PorshaJo
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This one was quite different from what I expected, but in a good way. The Gustav Sonata is told from three different perspectives. Part one where Gustav is a small child and he meets his life-long friend Anton. But he learns some life lessons during this time that stick with him. Being alone, surviving at 10 years old. Part two goes back in time where you learn how Gustav came to be and how his mother became the uncaring, unloving mother that she is. I must say that I found Gustav's father both ...more
Helene Jeppesen
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a really beautiful and fragile story about Gustav and Anton who become best friends as five-year-olds. It's a story about their friendship, but it's also a story about the twists and turns life can take and how your destiny can change when you choose the wrong path.
I loved how this book takes place in Switzerland, and for the most part during the cold autumnal and wintry months. It added to the cold and reflective atmosphere that is prevalent throughout this novel. The first part in whi
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is not a World War II novel. Some of it is set during World War II but that isn't what the book is about. I'm saying this because I came across several negative reviews that harped on this fact alone.

In Part I, we are introduced to Gustav as a boy. His mother tells him on page two to master himself, and throughout the novel we can see the importance placed on decorum, non-reaction, self-control. When Gustav befriends Anton, a piano prodigy, he does not quite understand his mother's chilly
...more
Chrissie
This book says very little about Switzerland's treatment of Jews during the Second World War. It can be summed up in one sentence: because the Swiss feared Germany would invade if they offered a safe-haven to Jews they stopped them from entering the country after August 18, 1938. In the story, one character, an assistant chief of police, by falsifying documents could help some Jews remain in the country. Knowing this is not a spoiler.

The story is divided into three parts. In the first section,
...more
Connie G
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's post-war Switzerland where Gustav Perle lives with his emotionally distant mother, Emilie. Although Gustav is a thoughtful, loving son, his love is never reciprocated by his mother. There are events in Emilie's life that have crippled her emotionally. In kindergarten Gustav begins a lifelong friendship with Anton, a talented Jewish pianist. Gustav takes on the role of the kind, caring friend as the young pianist is troubled with stage fright.

The second section of the sonata takes us back a
...more
Julie Christine
Rose Tremain amazes me. I haven't always enjoyed her narratives, but I never ceased to be awed by the breadth and depth of her subject matter, the fearlessness of her approach, and the sheer elegance of her writing. The Gustav Sonata exemplifies what she does so well: writing in a tone and rhythm that perfectly capture the spirit of the place, people, and history framing her story.

The Gustav Sonata is a novel in three parts. The first shows the meeting of Gustav and Anton, two young misfits in
...more
Peter Boyle
Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it
This book has been on my radar for a while, and when it made it the Baileys Prize longlist I felt it was finally time to check it out. The Irish Times critic Eileen Battersby (who is notoriously difficult to impress) has already proclaimed it a worthy winner of the award, and one of the finest British novels of recent years. My hopes could not have been higher.

It's 1947 when we first meet a five-year-old Gustav Perle, in the sleepy Swiss town of Matzlingen. He shares a tiny apartment with his mo
...more
Hugh
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2017, modern-lit
Tremain chose to set her latest novel in Switzerland, exploring the complicity that enabled the country to remain neutral during World War Two. There is plenty of music in this book, which is a novel in sonata form. Against this backdrop she has constructed a touching story of friendship and love. We will be discussing this book later this month in the 21st Century Literature group.

The first section explores the childhood of Gustav from 1947 to 1952. He is the child of a widowed mother Emilie, a
...more
Susan Johnson
Aug 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
There are some books that just sing to you and this is one for me. It is beautifully written and tells the story of two boys' life-time friendship in the aftermath of WWII in Switzerland. Thrown together in kindergarten the boys bond in ways that save each of them.

Gustav has a cold mother and spends his life trying to make her love him. He picks up other mother figures along the way to help him survive. His father, a disgraced former assistant police chief, dies when Gustav is quite young. Th
...more
Karen R
Aug 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“He knew that, in spite of everything, he still loved her. In some part of himself, he’d always believed that his mother couldn’t die before she’d learned to love him. As he’d got older, he’d tried to teach her how to do this before it was too late but he hadn’t succeeded.”

This is a melancholy story that begins in a small town in Switzerland, beginning during the days of World War II when Gustav is 5 years old. This is basically the story of his life, ending when he is in his 60’s. Gustav is a
...more
Ace
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars

Once again I find myself crawling out from under my rock to discover that the author of this marvellous book has written so many others which I am now happy to be adding to my want to read list.

This story, bleak but beautiful set in Switzerland is about love and family and loyalty. Written in 3 separate sections, the storyline of Gustav and Anton, their childhood and their love is set against racism, war and fear, runs through each. The ending was a little fairytale so I have dropped a s
...more
Gemma
There’s so much complex conflict going on in this novel and yet it’s extremely easy to read. This is achieved initially by using the perspective of a child. Gustav’s mother doesn’t love him. No matter how hard he tries he can’t get any kind of loving response from her. His father has died mysteriously during the war. He was assistant police inspector of a small town in Switzerland. Gustav’s mother refers to him as a hero. One day Gustav befriends a Jewish boy Anton who comes to his school. It so ...more
Amanda
May 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
I listened to this book all in one go on a long car ride home from VA. I was a bit disappointed in it because so many of my friends have given it 4 and 5 stars. It's not that I didn't like it I just didn't care about the characters or the story. And I really didn't like he ending. I did like the narrative timeline and the overall structure of the novel. I don't have to like characters but I have to feel something for them in order for a book to work for me.
Britta Böhler
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beautiful little book about the life of two boys, growing up in a small village in post-war Switzerland.
Dianne
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2017
I loved this! Review to come.....
Maria Hill AKA MH Books
“‘So you see,' she said, ‘you have to be like Switzerland. Do you understand me? You have to hold yourself together and be courageous, stay separate and strong. Then, you will have the right kind of life.”

The first book I finished in 2018 and my first Rose Remain though not my last.

Forgive me if I have this wrong (as I don’t actually know anything about classical music) but I imagine that this book is written in three parts to reflect the three movements of a Sonata. Each part/movement has its
...more
Vivek Tejuja
Aug 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don’t know how to begin this review. I will try. I will try to express what I feel – because what I feel about this book cannot really be put in words. “The Gustav Sonata” is one of those books that you keep coming back to after you have finished reading it. Not entirely, but in bits and pieces – to comprehend not the story but just to know that life works mysteriously sometimes and you cannot do much about it but live it for what it is.

I picked up this book on a whim. It was just one of thos
...more
Liz
Oct 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Switzerland, 1947: A lifelong friendship begins when Gustav Perle takes Anton Zweibel under his wing on his first day of kindergarten. Contrary to Gustav’s life with a mother incapable of expressing affection, Anton has a ready supply of love and encouragement from his doting parents but he’s having hard time adjusting to a new home. These two boys, from two very different backgrounds, will rescue each other with their companionship. Those early days of Gustav and Anton are what touched me the m ...more
Jennifer
What a brilliant, beautiful book. Set in Switzerland across most of the 20th century, it follows a boy named Gustav and the stories of those closest to him. Like stereotypes of Switzerland, the prose is precise, clean, and elegant - which, of course, only highlights its powerful currents of emotion. A quiet novel about longing, regret, and friendship. How this wasn't shortlisted for the Baileys Prize is beyond me.
Suzy
The Gustav Sonata is a moving, quiet novel of love and friendship set in Switzerland. Switzerland! I'm not sure that I've read a book that takes place there before, and I appreciate how Tremain portrays the Swiss cultural values of neutrality and self-mastery in her story of the life of Gustav Perle. I kept asking myself why this was titled The Gustav Sonata, a question that was answered very late in the book in words. But it occurred to me that the answer is also found in the structure of the n ...more
Sofia
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

I spent the whole book eager to see how things were going to sort themselves out, whilst enjoying myself enormously in Tremain hands. I almost gave up, really, I told myself, yes this is apparently how it's going to end and then wow, about bloody time, Ms Tremain, about bloody time.

Totally enjoyed the the quiet, pragmatic ebb and flow of the story, the first part made me eager for more. The second part filled in the gaps and the third part made me think I was going nowhere whilst in fac
...more
Ellie M
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-grc, fiction, 2017
Loved this! Beautifully written account of a friendship between to boys and their journey to adulthood. Love, in its many forms, is the central theme.

Gustav is a young boy living in Switzerland, living with his cold hearted mother and the memory of his father. When he starts kindergarten he's told to help look after Anton who is upset. A friendship is formed. Anton, though, is Jewish, and Gustav's mother doesn't like Jewish people because of what happened during the war and the choices her husb
...more
Barbara
4.5 stars
Gustav Perle's story is a sad one. He grew up in a small town in Switzerland, a town he never left. Born during the Second World War, Gustav's father, was an Assistant Police Commissioner in the town, who died an untimely death. His mother Emilie is a bitter woman, and they lead a life of poverty. In kindergarten, Gustav befriends Anton, an introverted boy from a Jewish family. The families prosperous life style, and religion/ethnicity, sets Gustav's mother against them. She is deeply a
...more
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Rose Tremain's best-selling novels have won many awards, including the Baileys Women's Prize, the Whitbread Novel of the Year, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Prix Femina Etranger. Restoration, the first of her novels to feature Robert Merivel, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She lives in Norfolk and London with the biographer Richard Holmes.

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