Appassionata (Hardcover)

By Eva Hoffman

Other Press, 9781590513194, 272pp.

Publication Date: May 5, 2009



Selected as one of’s 20 Tantalizing Beach Reads
Selected as a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Isabel Merton is a renowned concert pianist, whose performances are marked by a rare responsiveness to the complexities of her art, and its intensities of feeling. At the height of her career, she feels increasingly torn between the compelling musical realm she deeply inhabits, and her fragmented itinerant artist’s life, with its frequent flights, anonymous hotels, and brief, arbitrary encounters. Away from her New York home on a European tour, Isabel meets a political exile from a war-torn country, a man driven by a rankling sense of injustice and a powerful desire to vindicate his cause and avenge his people. As their paths cross in several cities, they are drawn to each other both by their differences and their seemingly parallel passions–until a menacing incident throws her into a creative crisis, and forces her to reevaluate his actions, and her own motives. In this story of contemporary love and conflict, Hoffman illuminates the currents and undercurrents of our time, as she explores the luminous and dark faces of romanticism, and those perennial human yearnings, frustrations, and moral choices that can lead to destructiveness, or the richest art. 

About the Author

Eva Hoffman

Eva Hoffmanwas born in Krakow, Poland, and emigrated to America in her teens. She is the author of "Lost in Translation, Exit Into History, Shtetl, The Secret," and "After Such Knowledge," and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Whiting Award, and an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She lives in London.

Praise For Appassionata

The New York Times Book Review
“A nuanced portrait of a musician deeply engaged in the complexities of her art …intelligent and affecting…Hoffman writes about music and musicianship with poetry and precision, wit and melancholy.”

Greg Sandow, ArtsJornal
“It seemed at first like a quiet novel, but lovely and honest... And the honesty is both emotional and musical. This is one of the few novels I’ve read that -- in its scenes of concert life, in its account of what the pianist thinks when she’s playing, and in its scenes from the pianis’s long-ago student life -- really convey how classical music works. both observant and wonderfully sensitive.”

Chicago Tribune
“A turbulent tale that grips the reader's attention. Hoffman's musical training, her sensitivity to current events, and her own traumatic life experiences combine to make for a distinctive novel that is fully worthy of our attention.”

The Washington Times
Appassionata is a serious pleasure, a meditation on character, society, the world and beauty.”
Appassionata is a sophisticated work...a nuanced look at the role of music in our lives, the creative process and, most inspiringly, the good and ill that follow when all restraints are removed from our day-to-day existence.”

O, The Oprah Magazine
“Adagio, accelerando–words that mark the way music moves through time and, in Eva Hoffman’s acute new novel, Appassionata (Other Press), describe the dynamic of human emotion, the subtle “vocabulary of the soul.” Isabel Merton is a brilliant concert pianist, a medium who transmits the passions of Mozart and Chopin, through her fingertips. Unmoored from her marriage, on tour in Europe, she meets Anzor, a charismatic Chechen exile. Their romance is hardly unexpected, but Hoffman’s eloquent insights into “the intimate history of violence” rings startlingly true.”

The Jewish Chronicle
“Hoffman has produced a compelling account of the life of a concert her latest novel, Appassionata.…Hoffman's musical training, her sensitivity to current events, and her own traumatic life experiences combine to make for a distinctive novel that is fully worthy of our attention.”

Times Literary Supplement
“An organic portrait of a thinking, feeling artist coming to terms with her world.”

Chicago Jewish Star
“An ambitious, complex work that demands a reader’s attention as it explores issues of art and politics, purpose and meaning, nationalism and internationalism guided to eventual resolution by the romantic lyricism of Chopin and Schumann.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Hoffman’ s prose is reliably gorgeous…what’s memorable is the way Hoffman maps the intersection of art, history and man's striving for meaning.”

Booklist (starred review)
“An exquisite and disquieting story of love, terror, and loss, with geopolitical resonance and a profound moral calculus.”

Kirkus Reviews
“Ambitious and elegantly written.”

The Urban Coaster 

“It’s always been deemed a great challenge to capture the power and immediacy of music in writing, but in her second novel Appassionata (Other Press, 2009) award-winning author Eva Hoffman bravely takes up that gauntlet while also wading into the murky waters of world politics.”

Conversation Starters from

  1. Does Isabel feel her life of "bourgeois heroism" (Page 5) and global travel to be somehow lacking? What do you think her malaise is about?
  2. Ernest Wolfe is from an old world while Jane is from a new one. How do they contrast? How does music bridge their very different views of life? (Pages 103, 108, 150)
  3. Compare Isabel and her husband Peter. How does Isabel think of him? Why does she leave him?
  4. Anzor's rage at the unjust treatment of the people of Chechnya has no bounds. How doe he manifest his rage? Do his feelings and some of his observations seem justified? At times Isabel agrees with him but she later begins to lose respect for him. Is Isabel naïve? Is Anzor?
  5. The bombing, what Isabel calls "anti-music" (Page 298) throws her into a sea of doubts about art and meaning. How is she able to reawaken from this state of despair?
  6. Ernest Wolfe says in his memoir, "I have also studied death. I come after….I was the child who ate death for breakfast. Only that ground is true, all the rest is ornament. Whatever sounds of pity and praise I find must rise up, however improbably, out of that. (Pages 87-88) Compare this with Anzor's reaction to injustice and death.
  7. In an interview Isabel is asked if it is arrogant to believe that European classical music expresses timeless and universal values. Isabel responds that it must not be since people all over the world want to listen to it. How does Appassionata illuminate the universality of music?
  8. What does Anzor's story about his father's killing of his dog say about his conflicts between hate and love? What does it say about forgiveness?
  9. Anzor shows a tremendous sensitivity about honor and respect and equates his rage with self-respect. Does his portrayal help you understand how this could turn into extreme violence? Can you imagine different ways to react to the indignities that he feels his people have suffered?
  10. When Anzor says he loved his dog Isabel realizes she has never heard him use the word love except for his country. He had emphasized his feelings for his country over any individuals, including his family and friends. How does his nationalism affect his capacity for love?
  11. When Isabel reflects on her relationship with Anzor, she realizes that "part of her has been poured into him, and part of him is now within her" (Page 183). How do parts of Azor show themselves in Isabel after the bombing?