The publishing industry traditionally releases its top books later in the year, but I usually discover a gem or two in the early months. One such treasure is The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander.
This evocative novel tells the complicated story of a seemingly ordinary, upright Blüthner piano. When an artisan picks the finest wood from a German forest to carve the instrument, he reflects, “Why should this piano be special? Each one was special, with its own soul and distinct personality. This one was substantial but unassuming, mysterious but sincere. He let the linen drop onto the factory floor. What will you say to this world? he asked the instrument.’’
This piano indeed is special. It travels from Germany to the Soviet Union with a musician, who later bequeaths it to a young girl. It later moves on to Europe and finally to California. This seemingly ordinary instrument elicits strong emotions from two very different women. Katya, a classically trained Russian musician, adores the piano because playing it allows her to escape her suffocating world. Clara, a car mechanic who cannot play the instrument, loves it nevertheless because her father gave it to her right before he died. After Clara breaks her hand trying to move the heavy instrument to her new apartment, she decides it is time to get rid of it. Yet the emotional weight of the piano bears down on her decision. Can she bear to part with an object that is her last physical tie to her father?
With a page-turning plot, complex, well-drawn characters and vivid descriptions, Chris Cander has written an exceptional book. Highly recommended.