WOSU – Central Ohio NPR

You can hear WOSU Book Critic Kassie Rose’s review here.

Andrew Ervin skillfully converges three lives in three stories that make up his new book. He intertwines beautiful, minor details that bring separations into an exquisite whole. His impressive debut is so masterfully composed, it moves the reader not with intrigue or romance, rather with gorgeous simplicity.

In the first story, world-renowned Hungarian composer Harkályi Lajos returns to Budapest for the premiere of his opera, The Golden Lotus. This return is emotionally charged because Harkályi emigrated to America as a teenager after surviving a World War II Nazi concentration camp.

The melody in the final string quartet of The Golden Lotus is a lullaby Harkályi’s mother sang to him and his brother on the morning they left for the camp. It’s one of those beautiful, minor details that elevate this book into elegance.

The setting is Independence Day in contemporary Budapest. Harkályi explores the city crowded with revelers in his free time before the opera gala. At one point, he comes upon skinheads attacking an African-American U.S. soldier in the dim hallway of a train station. Back at the hotel, the composer meets his niece Magda, who will be accompanying him to the opera.

She’s a translator, working for the U.S. military at a nearby base. Over coffee, she casually references her boyfriend. He’s the protagonist of the second story. He’s also the soldier Harkályi tried to help in the train station.

In the second story, the boyfriend, Private First Class “Brutus” Gibson, is on a gun-running mission that’s been forced on him by his commander. Gibson, however, rebels. He hides the weapons and takes a room at the same hotel where Magda and her uncle are staying.

In another one of those details that so elegantly tie these stories together, Gibson smells her unique perfume in the hotel and wonders if she’s involved in his commander’s effort to frame him. Gibson knows nothing about Magda’s presence in Budapest for the opera.

The third story is from the viewpoint of an American violinist in the Budapest Orchestra performing Harkályi’s opera. She, also, passes through composer’s hotel, but this violinist’s greater connection to the composer is the final notes of the opera, the lullaby’s string quartet. She deviates from the score to the horror of her fellow musicians.

It would be unfair to reveal more of this powerful moment that transforms both the violinist and the composer. The three stories build to it and come together in a lasting message about courage and self-truth.