CHOPIN’S GARDEN by Eleanor Lincoln Morse (Fox Print Books) was given to me by a fellow editor whose librarian gave it to her. And it’s exactly the kind of novel you finish and give to a friend so he or she can savor it too. The story is told by the charming Nadia, a Polish immigrant who arrived in the U.S as a child. Now a professional musician living in NYC, she finds herself in middle age, divorced, afraid of romance but nevertheless drawn to her neighbor, Ichuro, a man with a tragic past. When Nadia’s dying father, who had fought in the Polish army, reveals a family secret, Nadia takes off for Poland to piece together the truth—not only about her own history but also about the Polish experience during WWII.
My own grandfather was Jewish and from Poland, so it was particularly interesting for me to read about the war from the side of the Polish nation. Morse’s writing is spare and builds steadily to a crescendo and truly moving conclusion. The dialogue is especially terrific—even a talking parakeet is beautifully rendered. I loved the way Nadia and Ichuro, two damaged people, immigrants both, came slowly to trust each other. The themes of music, of loss, of war’s tally, of life interrupted, of the sometimes futile search for home are understated but haunting. In fact, I keep thinking about this book and relishing the thought of passing it along to the next lucky reader.