Review: The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain



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’s family, tracing the roots of his mother’s anti-Semitism and its impact on her son and his beloved friend.

Moving backward to the war years and the painful repercussions of an act of conscience, and forward through the lives and careers of Gustav and Anton, The Gustav Sonata explores the passionate love of childhood friendship as it’s lost, transformed, and regained over a lifetime. It’s a powerful and deeply moving addition to the beloved oeuvre of one of our greatest contemporary novelists.



A beautiful and sorrowful story about love, loss and hardship in post war Switzerland.

I didn’t know what to expect from this story and it isn’t my typical read but I can appreciate the beautiful skill that this author has.  Despite this not being my typical type of book I was captivate by the story of Gustav and how his life is affected by those around him.  I became fully immersed in the story line quickly and found myself saying….just one more page on more than one occasion.

The story showed how the tendrils of war reached Switzerland despite its neutrality and the effects that had on the lives of those that tried to help, tried to flee or tried to ignore!

Gustav’s life wasn’t one of unbridled joy and there is much sorrow in this book and I found myself more than a couple of times on the verge or tears and I loved reading the budding friendship of Gustav and Anton unfold and grow across the years.

My only disappointment with this story is the large jump from a young Gustav to a Gustav in his fifties I so wish there had been more about his time as a young adult and how he overcame the adversity he faced. I felt that I’d missed out on two chapters somewhere along the way!


Disclosure:  The Pursuit Of Bookiness received a copy of this book free of charge in return for an honest review.  All opinions are our own