For those who seek novels with a setting of music, obsession, rebellion, genius and life behind the Iron Curtain will not want to miss Nikolai Grozni’s novel Wunderkind (Free Press, 2011).
Wunderkind tells the story of Konstantin, a fifteen-year-old piano prodigy and student at the Sofia School of Music in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is living his adolescence pursuing his quest in the purity of music while dealing with self-destructive answers to society’s dehumanizing decades of fear, mind control, unrealistic ideals, and torn between the beautiful and ugly.
Nikolai Grozni’s prose makes this book everything from breathtaking to taking the reader to places one never previously considered. Based on his own past as a pianist in Bulgaria during the 1980’s Russian occupation, Grozni penned Wunderkind to help him come to terms with his own past, accomplishing such in a masterful way.
Many emotions spring from reading Wunderkind: tears, laughter, fear, anguish and anger, just to name a few, while revealing the brutalities of Eastern Europe in a raw and bare-bones fashion. Nothing is held back in this book – it reads equally as autobiographical as to novel Wunderkind actually is.
While it may appear that a boy of fifteen is so aware of his dismal surroundings and expresses dark thoughts that appear beyond his adolescent years, one has to be reminded that the times Konstantin was experiencing his teenage years in a school for the musically gifted could have matured his sooner than most boys his age.
Wunderkind did move too slow in some parts and seemed rushed in others, but overall, the story was intense and fascinating, even for those who never experienced the Iron Curtain torment of its day. I would especially recommend this book to both music and history aficionados, but the story is dark, and may not be for everyone.