Gustav is a young bot growing up in Switzerland after World War Two. His mother appears unloving and cold, telling him never to cry or show his emotions and his father, Erich a policeman, dies before he can remember. His life of poverty is suddenly enriched on the day that he is asked to look after Anton, a new child to the town. A friendship forms between the two which his mother disapproves of as Anton is a Jew. The novel explores this relationship over a lifetime.
This has been popping up on my recommended reads on amazon and Goodreads for over a year and I’ve read and seen many people review it and say how wonderful a book it is so I eventually got around to listening to it on audiobook.
I loved the relationship between Anton and Gustav from day one when Gustav cheers up the crying Anton, they have a quick bond which isn’t dispelled by the sharp difference in family status and wealth, religion or a mother’s disapproval. There is such love there as children and they provide the emotional stability which is lacking elsewhere in their lives. Anton is a keen piano player who plays for Gustav expecting adoration and praise, this self-centred approach is interesting to watch as the play continues.
Outside of these two main characters there were numerous minor characters some I liked, such as the army officer and the chief of police but there were also plenty to enjoy to dislike, especially the mother. I really enjoyed the story of the mother and father and how they got together and the changes that it bought, I would have loved that to be a novel in itself. I would say that with the exception of the mother and father I found a lot of the minor characters unformed and a little unbelievable – there is a female character who appears near the end of the novel who I thought was ridiculous and unbelievable.
As a whole I thought this novel was interesting and enjoyed individual segments such as the boys’ childhood and the story of the parents’ past but some of the other parts weren’t as gripping.