Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson is about silence and loss. On the day his daughter Miriam dies, musician Adam Anker visits a War Memorial Museum in New Zealand, where he finds a photograph of a man who shares the name he was born with, Adam Lipski, and a note from Adam’s sister. Putting that information aside as he grieves the loss of his daughter, he returns to the mystery of his past a year later. His quest for answers takes him to Krakow, Poland, where he meets an old friend of Lipski’s who can fill in the blanks of his past for him. There is also some unfinished business with Cecilia, the mother of his daughter, who he hasn’t been in contact with for 19 years- the entirety of their daughter’s life.
Adam’s mother was silent about their family, where they came from, and who his father was. As frustrated as Adam had been throughout his life about this lack of fundamental information, he did the very same thing to his daughter Miriam. He never told her anything about her mother, even though she had begun to ask, and with her death he regretfully could never make that right.
Cecilia has lived alone on the island where she spent her childhood summers for the entire time she and Adam have been apart. The symbolism in the fact that both Adam and Cecilia live on islands, worlds away from each other, wasn’t lost on me- we humans are all islands in a sense, but these two cherish their solitude more than most and shy away from human connection. Cecelia’s story takes some major twists- large events worthy of their own separate novel. One important thing we find out is why she gave Adam the painful choice of being her partner or being Miriam’s father (one or the other, not both).
I thought that after nearly two decades of silence, Cecilia would crave information about the daughter she let go the way the desert craves the rain. Adam awakened long-buried feelings in Cecilia, and he does tell her about Miriam eventually, but it feels like Adam is the one who needs to tell, rather than Cecilia is the one who needs to hear. The beautiful sonata he has written for their daughter is what finally unlocks the silence between them.
This book has a dreamlike quality that I enjoyed, although, as often happens with dreams, I wasn’t always clear about what was going on. The book is divided into 6 sections, with the first three narrated by Adam, four and five narrated by Cecilia, and the 6th back to Adam. The transition was a little disorienting. When I realized there was a new narrator I had to go back and re-read several pages with that new voice in my head. At some point, maybe about 100 pages in, Adam starts speaking directly to Cecilia as if she is the reader. When Cecilia takes over, she is speaking directly to Adam as if he is the reader. It took some getting used to. However, I enjoyed the book for it’s exquisite prose, and would recommend it to those with an appreciation for beautiful language.