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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
The first movement of a classical music sonata begins with an elaborate exposition to entice listening ears. The melodies introduced in the exposition are then developed and expanded upon until one reaches a climax and a resolution, a restatement of the opening musical ideas ensues. Sometimes there is a coda, like an epilogue in literature. But this is only the first movement – there are at least two movements in a sonata and sometimes as many as five. Fast, slow, fast, and very fast are the standard marked tempos. There are so many parallels between a musical sonata and life. Perhaps that is why composers produced so many sonatas during their musical careers. Mira is a young Jewish girl growing up in rural Manitoba, right in the heart of the Canadian prairies, in the early years after World War II. She attends a Jewish school and learns the traditions. But one teacher, in particular, touched her the most; the strangely quiet teacher who taught her class and then herself privately in music for several years. The students called him Chaver B. This teacher had a dire secret that filled him with overwhelming remorse. When he finally reveals this secret to Mira, after they’ve developed a deep friendship through a combined love of music, Mira is shocked that humanity could be so cruel.
Sandy Shefrin Rabin’s novel, Prairie Sonata, is a moving story about coming of age, the revelation of horrific events in history, and the effect that music has to bind all the unrest and unsettled emotions into one dramatically beautifully, soulfully wrenching work of art. Music, literature, art, and life combine with the horrors of history in this compelling, compassionate novel. The plot follows Mira’s childhood as she grows in both her love of knowledge and her maturing interest in music. The reader is intrigued by Mira’s intuitive view of her teacher: she knows there is a secret eating away at him, but she doesn’t understand what it is. This riveting story takes an intense look at the aftermath of the horrors of World War II. Like Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, the overwhelming power of this narrative reopens the wounds of past crimes as we enter new realms of horrific events, something reflected upon in the story’s coda as an older Mira wonders if the world will ever be a safe, sane place. With powerful control of the language, narrative, plot, and dialogue, this story will have readers pondering on the beauty and the agony of life; past, present, and future.