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Wunderkindby Nikolai Grozni
Synopses & Reviews
In his dazzling first novel Wunderkind, Nikolai Grozni, author of the acclaimed memoir Turtle Feet, offers an exquisitely observed, tragicomic glimpse behind the Iron Curtain at the tail end of the Cold War.
Brash, brilliant fifteen-year-old Konstantin is a world-class pianist of exceptional sensitivity whose propulsive rage at Soviet oppression threatens to destroy him. At once intelligent and arrogant, funny and despairing, compassionate and cruel, he exults in his rebellions: drinking and smoking at school, having careless sex while pining for a mercurial violin virtuoso, and mocking Party pomp and ceremony. Through it all, Konstantin plays the piano with transporting passion. The instrument is both his refuge and the thing tethering him to a world he cannot abide—and, if he can avoid getting kicked out of school, it could also be his chance to escape. Increasingly desperate and reckless, Konstantin struggles toward adulthood in a society where expression of any kind can come at terrible cost.
Like Gary Shteyngart and Jonathan Safran Foer, Grozni — himself a native of Bulgaria who was a world-class pianist in his youth — sets an electrifying portrait of youthful longing and anxiety against a backdrop of tumultuous, historic world events. Hypnotic and headlong, Wunderkind's brilliant marriage of eloquent adolescent turmoil and rage over government and social oppression makes for a newly urgent portrait of Soviet society.
"Wunderkind is a gift for all the senses. Nikolai Grozni's shimmering, visceral prose unfurls like music, as if a baby grand served as his infernal typewriter." Patti Smith, bestselling author of Just Kids
"With heartbreaking insight, Wunderkind portrays the searing brutalities of life in Communist Eastern Europe and the power of music to provide solace and redemption. I found myself astonished, amazed, and moved by this remarkable novel." Lauren Belfer, bestselling author of City of Light and A Fierce Radiance
"Nikolai Grozni's Wunderkind is an elegant, graceful novel that captures not only the power and beauty of music, but the stifling oppression of life in a totalitarian state. The novel sings and howls, and in its finest moments, takes the reader's breath away." Dinaw Mengestu, author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
"Shrewd, rhapsodic, Nikolai Grozni's Wunderkind fuses high romanticism with sinister, hard-edged humor. A love-hate letter to a Bulgaria that no longer exists, it contains some of the most vivid, celebratory writing about music I've ever read." Zachary Lazar, author of Sway
"In this fine portrait of a suffocating society, what are especially remarkable is the vitality...Konstantin is a rebel with a cause, his anger contagious...and the way Grozni writes about music. Rapturous and insightful...passages [are] a real adrenaline rush....[T]his passionate novel should be pushed on anyone interested in music, politics, or energized coming-of-age tales." Library Journal
"Grozni's writing is colorful and strong." Publishers Weekly
Grozni's dazzling first novel offers an exquisitely observed, tragicomic glimpse behind the Iron Curtain at the tail end of the Cold War.
Life in Sofia, Bulgaria, in the late 1980s is bleak and controlled. The oppressive Communist regime bears down on all aspects of people’s lives much like the granite sky overhead. In the crumbling old building that hosts the Sofia Music School for the Gifted, inflexible and unsentimental apparatchiks drill the students like soldiers—as if the music they are teaching did not have the power to set these young souls on fire.
Fifteen-year-old Konstantin is a brash, brilliant pianist of exceptional sensitivity, struggling toward adulthood in a society where honest expression often comes at a terrible cost. Confined to the Music School for most of each day and a good part of the night, Konstantin exults in his small rebellions—smoking, drinking, and mocking Party pomp and cant at every opportunity. Intelligent and arrogant, funny and despairing, compassionate and cruel, he is driven simultaneously by a desire to be the best and an almost irresistible urge to fail. His isolation, buttressed by the grim conventions of a loveless society, prevents him from getting close to the mercurial violin virtuoso Irina, but also from understanding himself.
Through it all, Konstantin plays the piano with inflamed passion: he is transported by unparalleled explorations of Chopin, Debussy, and Bach, even as he is cursed by his teachers’ numbing efforts at mind control. Each challenging piano piece takes on a life of its own, engendering exquisite new revelations. A refuge from a reality Konstantin detests, the piano is also what tethers him to it. Yet if he can only truly master this grandest of instruments—as well as his own self-destructive urges—it might just secure his passage out of this broken country.
Nikolai Grozni—himself a native of Bulgaria and a world-class pianist in his youth—sets this electrifying portrait of adolescent longing and anxiety against a backdrop of tumultuous, historic world events. Hypnotic and headlong, Wunderkind gives us a stunningly urgent, acutely observed, and wonderfully tragicomic glimpse behind the Iron Curtain at the very end of the Cold War, reminding us of the sometimes life-saving grace of great music.
About the Author
Nikolai Grozni began training as a classical pianist at age four, and won his first major award in Salerno, Italy, at the age of ten. Grozni's acclaimed memoir Turtle Feet follows his four years spent as a Buddhist monk studying at the Institute of Tibetan Dialectics in Dharamsala, and later at a monastery in South India. Grozni holds an MFA in creative writing from Brown University. He lives with his wife and their children in France.
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