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3.39  ·  Rating details ·  145 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
Isabel Merton is a renowned concert pianist, whose playing is marked by rare intensity, and for whom each performance is a plunge into the compelling world of the music. At the height of her career, she feels increasingly torn between the expressive musical realm she inhabits, and the fragmented life she leads as an itinerant artist, with its frequent flights, anonymous ho ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 5th 2008 by Harvill Secker
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Deanna Madden I ran across your question while trying to find a copy of this novel. I think the original title may have been Illuminations because that's the title…moreI ran across your question while trying to find a copy of this novel. I think the original title may have been Illuminations because that's the title of the first publication of the novel on June 5, 2008. It apparently was changed the next year when Other Press in New York published it. This could be the difference between a British title and an American. (The first publication was by Harvill Secker.) Now it's known by two titles. Thanks for pointing this out. It helps me in searching for a copy of the novel. By the way, I prefer the title Appassionata too.(less)

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Jenny (Reading Envy)
Apr 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music, read2011
This book is more of the 4.5 stars variety for me. The story is about Isabel Merton, a concert pianist, who ends up in a relationship with a man involved in the politics of volatile Chechnya. The amazing part of the novel isn't the story, but how the writer has capture the emotions of music in words. There are portions where various thoughts of people attending Isabel's concerts are written in streams overlaying each other, as well as Isabel's own thoughts while she plays and I wanted to shout, ...more

A beautiful story of contrasts, lovely but tragic, both light and deep at the same time, this was my April selection for my challenge to read a book a month from my old TBR lists. It was one of those books I bought on impulse after reading a review.

The title refers to Beethoven's Piano Sonata No 23. Isabel Merton, a concert pianist, spends long periods on tour in Europe, Australia, South America and even China. Her life is a constant sequence of plane flights, hotels, and concerts. She lives fo
Apr 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is a brilliant piece of literature: eloquent and completely engrossing.

The reader follows Isabel through her tour of Europe and the people she runs into, a la The Portrait of a Lady . This novel is set in modern times, and this Isabel is a classical pianist on a concert tour. She meets a man full of political passion and falls in love with him, bringing questions of the meaning of live, music, and death into our minds.

Woven throughout the novel are entries from Journal of a Summer, a posth
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As someone with a strong background in music, this book really fell flat. Hoffman might have used her considerable skill to write a series of essays. The characters and relationships were all underdeveloped. There were hints and descriptions of the main character, Isabel's troubled past but it was as if in a fog or a dream. Perhaps this was intentional. Also, I found her descriptions of people listening to her concerts somewhat realistic and innovative but boring. Isabel annoyingly interprets th ...more
May 13, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
music is beauty, beauty is love, love is music. (Repeat ad infinitum)
(Insert plot device) Love interest is Chechen/terrorist who travels as much as protagonist versus predictable academic ex who provides less passionate love than Chechen. (Insert random drama). (Repeat) Anti-climactic ending.
Bruno Zogma
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
TFW when you have trauma and you need to compose music:
"She doesn't know where this composition is going, how the aural pressures within her will range themselves into intelligible formations; but she hears beginnings of long sinuous lines, and the micro-rhythms of speeded-up time, passages of tender fragility, and of fierce, dancelike affirmation. She senses that this will be a large composition, and that it will contain instruments filled with the moistness of the human voice, and the hard sex
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: beautiful, writing
Successful using language to describe what it feels like to hear, play, and compose music. Reminded me of Richard Powers' Galatea 2.2 about a computer that learns to read literature, a story that is also told with a great use of language.

At a concert, audience members’ stream of consciousness is written with slashes like a poem: “Chopin knew, hated the Russians the tyrants the thugs / ah, listen, that line chromatic into the distance, from a distance, transporting, she transports me / must meet
This book was a thought-provoking, lyrically written novel addressing the dichotomy between violence and love and music and expression, but more so privilege and the result of having too much or too little. Isabel isn’t so much spoiled as lucky and sheltered. She plays piano all day and attends parties afterwards with the social and political elite. Why she’s invited to these parties is beyond me, because she never seems to know what is going on and is kind of a downer. I didn’t dislike Isabel t ...more
Oct 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
This is one of the richest, most ambitious novels I've read in a while--and it's not even very long. It's the story of an accomplished, sensitive, innocent concert pianist on a tour of Europe who meets & engages in an intimate relationship with an angry, vengeful Chechen rebel representative. It takes place over just the few weeks of that tour & its aftermath. It's one of those books where the political is intensely personal. It's set on an international scale with big social/political/i ...more
This is intellectual, psychological fiction with two rather unique themes that alone make it worth reading if they appeal to the reader. I use the word "intellectual" because of both the worlds the main characters operate in (classical performing arts and political diplomacy)and also for the at times unfortunate use of words that are mostly unknown or little used which is offputting. The psychological aspect is more compelling. A female classical pianist grapples with issues of artistic flow and ...more
Aug 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a bit different from what I normally read, so it took me about 30 pages to warm up to it. It's very stream-of-consciousness, a bit disjointed. The plot takes a while to really kick in. I felt like everything happened in one giant rush at the end, but for all I know, that was intentional.

To show you how out of touch I am with the "scene," as it were, when I finished the book I thought, "If they made this into a movie, it would be a lot like Lost in Translation." That was when I read the a
Aug 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: classical music lovers
An interesting but I think ultimately unsuccessful book. The author's training as a classical pianist stands her in good stead, and there are some truly breathtaking passages,at once lyrical and acute, where she writes about the music she loves - particularly Chopin and Schumann. The picture she draws of the itinerant musician's life is also convincing -well-observed and carefully nuanced. But the heroine herself I find deeply problematic, for she never seems to come to life, but, puppet-like, g ...more
Jonathan Bennett
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
You can only really describe this book as a symphony of words, oozing class and sophistication. It reads like a conversation held by rich, well mannered yet pompous socialites.

Like many good symphonies it crescendo's as much as it diminuendo's - this however is not always a good premis for a book.

There is tension within the narrative and the lead character (isobel) is easily identifiable with. However the surrounding characters (most notable Anzor) are weak and inconsistent. And the relationshi
Jun 06, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I like the theme of this book, with the protagonist shaken into a search for meaning. What I didn't like were the characters. Isabel is so naive and so unsure of herself, I wanted to reach into the book and shake her. Her lover, Anzor, is a condescending ass with anger issues, and for about the middle third of the book, I was questioning why she continues her relationship with him.

The author does a pretty decent job on the music-side of things (although once referring to a flute player blowing "
Oct 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a novel of ideas. And also a book about music. Since I don't really understand music on this level, this aspect of the book was a bit hard to follow, but I am sure musicians would relate to it. The ideas are art, beauty, history, freedom/independence, culture, etc. For me, the most vivid and moving parts of the book are the exchanges about cultural/historical differences between American, European and Chechen characters. I often found myself, like the heroine, quite unable to respond to ...more
May 17, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not good. I was a serious classical musician and thought it would be wonderful to read about a classical musician and her trials and tribulations. However, the characters are so very flat. Isabel has no dimensions and Anzor is a terrible person. The plot is rather unbelievable, the language is much too flowery and could use a good edit, and some of the musical language she uses is not even accurate! Anyways, it was a quick enough read, but honestly, I felt like i wasted some time reading this bo ...more
May 23, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, adult, fiction, music
Isabel Merton, an American, world-class concert pianist is passionate about the power of music. But she has become restless & dissatisfied with the itinerant, though privileged, life of a performer. These feelings leave her open to a chance(?) relationship with a Chechen exile/activist whom she meets on a European tour. Anzor is also passionate, but his passion takes the form of rage (violence?) over his country survival and the injustices it has suffered. The encounter challenges Isabel’s f ...more
Oct 20, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Somehow I thought this book might be a good quick read. I was thinking of Mr. Elfriede Jelinek's (Nobel Prize for Literature), The Piano Teacher. It felt like it was a "wanna be" and indeed it did not hold up. Expected too way too much for sure but I like books about people obsessed by their craft and talents and it some ways Ms. Hoffman provided that except for the very unbelievable and ill thought love story. Falling for a terrorist? (Well, I think he could be classified as a terrorist). Not t ...more
Oct 10, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This unconventional novel follows the parallel passions of Isabel Merton, a renowned concert pianist, and Anzor Islikhanov, a Chechen political exile driven by a powerful desire to avenge his people, with whom she becomes involved. Anzor is a frankly unappealing character, whose interminable lectures are a reminder that terrorists make for uncomfortable dinner parties.Other than Isabel, the characters in the novel seem one dimensional; still the writing was very good,and I would read another nov ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle-edition
Wow -- overall this had so many good reviews and the description was so interesting I decided to give it a try. It is very well written but for me, the characters never really got a voice; as one reviewer/reader said "they were flat and one dimensional." You want to feel the Isabel is dissatisfied and unhappy with her life. You want to feel that Anzor is enraged by the treatment of the Chechens but truthfully - they both come off like whiny spoiled, and even worse; bored, children. By the end of ...more
Nov 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An engrossing journey into the soul of an artist. A gifted pianist, Isabel Morton, is caught up a a whirlwind affair with a mysterious Chechen revolutionary during a European concert tour. You know it's not going to end well, but it does, eventually, as she learns to incorporate the lessons of her life into her art. I thought the descriptions of her thoughts while playing the piano offered a fascinating look into the workings of an artist's mind.
Carolyn Crocker
Mar 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Concert pianist Isabel Merton begins her European tour dissatisfied with the comfort and rationality of her life. The mystery and passion encountered in a mysterious Chechen freedom fighter draw her into a search for truth and meaning with explosive consequences. This novel portrays the conflict of self-fulfillment, world politics, and music.
Jul 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This interesting story is told in the first person by a famous American concert pianist on tour who meets and begins a relationship with a mysterious Chechian exile. The pianist is single minded on her art while the political exile is just as strongwilled regarding the political clime in Chechnia. I found this hard but very worthwhile reading.
I had a hard time finishing this novel of ideas through two too contrived and not fully-developed characters. The juxtaposing of the world of clasical music vs. the political in the guise of a Chechnian terrorist just wasn't believeable to me. I sped-read through much of it - espcially the sections of audience members thoughts while the pianist plays and the journal entries of her former mentor.
Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was about as pretentious as they come. The writing was ridiculously old fashioned and over the top with vocabulary well beyond the 'norm'. It was like a foreign movie gone crazy and while the beginning and middle leaned toward mainstream, the end became esoteric and insane. I'd recommend it if you want a challenge.
Jun 07, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I do like how Eva Hoffman writes about orchestral music. Her language is gorgeous. The story was headed somewhere unconventional and interesting, until the second act. Then so much of the strength of the lead character and her lover had built up in conflict - something had to blow - but it was much more literal than I wanted.
Jul 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
exquisitely moving meditation on love, infatuation, music, and politics. Only a little stumble with some of the dialogue between Isabel and Anzor but so profoundly engrossing in her discussion of music and feeling. I read it in a single day and was very disappointed when it ended.
gorgeous and very sad.
Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love music, romance, and international intrigue, and that's why I like this book. It has all this, and it's beautifully written to boot. It was a very fast, escapist read. At the same time, it was very thought-provoking about the different ways people express their passions.
Jamie Schoen
I would have given the first part of this book 4 starts but the middle and end more like a 2. I really enjoyed the descriptions and settings of the main character's travels and her art but found some of the other elements of the story and dialogue redundant.
Apr 07, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Lillian by: book club
Shelves: book-club-picks
really boring read, I cannot recommend it to anyone who is not a musician - maybe even only to a professional musician or composer. Thankfully I was able to borrow it from the library and it was fairly short.
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Eva Hoffman is a writer and academic. She was born Ewa Wydra July 1, 1945 in Cracow, Poland after her Jewish parents survived the Holocaust by hiding in the Ukraine. In 1959, during the Cold War, the thirteen years old Eva, her nine years old sister "Alinka" and her parents immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, where her name has been changed to Eva. Upon graduating from high school she received a scho ...more
More about Eva Hoffman
“The thing about fanatics is they have charisma.” “They have no scruples that’s what makes them irresistable.” “There’s no one like an intellectual to become fanatical with ideas.” “Madness is most dangerous when it is rational” 1 likes
“A power struggle is always better than absolute power.” 1 likes
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