What We’re Reading: Chopin’s Garden

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.

–Amy Gash, Editor


5 Comments On This Post:

November 3, 2010
12:03 pm
Slow Reader says...

Thank you for this recommendation!
I plan to get my hands on this book right away–all of my grandparents were Jewish and from Poland and other Eastern European locations.
In How Fiction Works, James Wood denigrates books which have a Holocaust survivor (in the same commentary, he also denigrates books which have an incest survivor — I rolled on the floor in laughter at that point, since my project for my MFA novel-writing class had BOTH a Holocaust survivor and an incest survivor as main characters) — however, I believe we cannot have enough books telling Holocaust-related stories, telling stories of slavery and segregation, in order to keep those terrible histories alive for future generations — we still have here in the US gay teenagers who are being cruelly victimized, and states (like Arizona) that think it’s okay to stop someone who has brown skin when they’re walking on the street and ask them to demonstrate that they are legally in the US.
Stepping off my soapbox, thanks again for the fine recommendation!

November 3, 2010
1:47 pm
Amy Hanridge says...

Chopin’s Garden is not a little-known book to Spalding MFA fiction writing students! We are lucky to have Eleanor Morse as faculty and were lucky enough to have her book assigned to all of us as our fiction “Book in Common” this past May! We shared a lively discussion with her on her wonderful novel. Thank you for sharing her great work with even more people!

November 3, 2010
3:21 pm
Slow Reader says...

Amy —
Since this was your “Book in Common” for your MFA Program — do you have a publicly-available “Reader’s Guide” for Chopin’s Garden?
Spalding is a fine MFA program — don’t you also have Silas House on your faculty?

November 3, 2010
6:51 pm
Amy Hanridge says...

No, sorry. Our Book in Common discussions are conversational, with no formal Reader’s Guide. If I find that Eleanor has one, though, I’ll post another comment here.

And Spalding is indeed a fine MFA program. I’m in my fourth and final semester in fiction writing. I love it! Silas House is on our faculty. Another truly wonderful writer. And my mentor now is the fantastic Mary Yukari Waters. She is helping me and my writing, both my short stories and my novel, in ways that amaze me.



November 4, 2010
10:40 pm
Michael says...

Slow Reader and Amy: Thanks for your comments! Glad to hear that Eleanor Morse is Spalding faculty. And Slow Reader–never mind what James Wood says; I agree with you.

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