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The Piano Teacherby Elfriede Jelinek
Synopses & Reviews
The English-language debut of the winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature astonishes with biting social commentary and linguistic prowess.
In awarding her the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature, The Swedish Academy praised Elfriede Jelinek "for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power." In her most well-known novel, The Piano Teacher, Jelinek creates a shocking, angry, aching portrait of a society stubbornly fabricating its own obsolescence, and of a young woman whom this society has slowly fashioned into a ticking bomb. Set in a late 1980s Vienna rotting under the weight of its oppressive, outmoded cultural ideals ("which, like any drowned corpse that is not fished from the water, bloats up more and more") — a Vienna mirrored by the heroine's own repressed dreams — The Piano Teacher marks the English-language debut of a novelist of international significance.
Erika Kohut, piano teacher at the very prestigious, very stuffy Vienna Conservatory, is a quiet woman in her mid thirties devoted to Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, and her domineering mother. The two women's life together is a seamless tissue of desperate boredom, fueled by television movies, neurotic possessiveness, and hopeless dreams of a concert career whose hour has long since passed. Enter Walter Klemmer — handsome, arrogant, athletic, out to conquer the secret of art and Erika's affections with all the rancid bravado of youth — and suddenly the dark and dangerous passions roiling under the piano teacher's subdued exterior explode in a release of sexual perversity and long-buried violence.
Celebrated throughout Europe for the intensity and frankness of her writings, awarded the Heinrich Böll Prize for her outstanding contribution to German letters, Elfriede Jelinek is one of the most original and controversial writers in Austria today — a writer whose novels cut to the very heart of our deepest fears and desires.
The Piano Teacher was made into an acclaimed film by Michael Haneke in 2001.
"The Piano Teacher is compelling fiction, ensnaring the reader with the intensity of the author's vision and the bitter irony she uses to present her view of the city. The prose is disarmingly colloquial, the work of a gifted translator who has carefully preserved the stylistic nuances of the original German and the black humor inherent in Erika's bizarre encounters. Passionately political." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"The language is simple yet full of imaginative, often darkly funny metaphors; the view of the world original." The New York Times
"With her facility for metaphor and stylish narrative, Austrian Jelinek bears comparison to Schmidt and Böll at their best. Hers is a powerful debut in English." Library Journal
"While this story almost becomes a postfeminist, postmodern tempestuous romance, Jelinek skillfully uses both psychological description and social observations to portray her character and the world in which she lives." Booklist
"Brilliant, uncompromising....Jelinek gets behind the cream-puff prettiness of Vienna; this novel is not for the weak of heart." Publishers Weekly
"Her work tends to see power and aggression as the driving forces of relationships, in which men and parents subjugate women. But as an admirer of Bertold Brecht, she sometimes brings to her dramas a touch of vaudeville." The Guardian
"Moves impressively across that psychic terrain which is born out of maternal fear, fear of the outside world and of the body and fear of the loss of control." The Independent
The most popular work from provocative Austrian Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher is a searing portrait of a woman bound between a repressive society and her darkest desires. Erika Kohut is a piano teacher at the prestigious and formal Vienna Conservatory, who still lives with her domineering and possessive mother. Her life appears boring, but Erika, a quiet thirty-eight-year-old, secretly visits Turkish peep shows at night and watches sadomasochistic films. Meanwhile, a handsome, self-absorbed, seventeen-year-old student has become enamored with Erika and sets out to seduce her. She resists him at first — but then the dark passions roiling under the piano teacher's subdued exterior explode in a release of perversity, violence, and degradation.
About the Author
Elfriede Jelinek was born in Mürzzuschlag, Austria, in 1946, and grew up in Vienna, where she attended the Vienna Conservatory of Music. She is the author of five other novels, a collection of poetry, a number of pieces for radio and theater, and is the German translator of Thomas Pynchon, as well as a composer and organist. Ms. Jelinek lives in Vienna and Munich. In 1986 she was awarded the prestigious Heinrich Böll Prize. Most recently she has published Der Tod und das Mädchen I-V (2003), her "princess dramas". Elfriede Jelinek won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Joachim Neugroschel has twice been the recipient of the Goethe House/PEN Translation Prize.
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