Sunday, September 17, 2006

Back from France, Busy Fall Ahead!

Hello again! We went to France for three weeks three long weeks ago. Already back- to-school and back-to-schedule numbness is setting in.

I have a busy autumn ahead, with appearances at GritLit festival in Hamilton Sunday November 5th at 16:00, reading with Alan Cumyn and Goran Simic.

The Vancouver Jewish Book Fair, participating in a poetry brunch Sunday November 19th at 11:00 and then giving a reading and talk Monday evening November 20th at 19:00 pm

On to the Winnipeg Jewish Book Fair for an evening reading November 21

And then back in Toronto for Books and Bagels at the Miles Nadal JCC, Sunday December 3 at 11:00

Please come if you can!

The Violin Lover has continued to receive excellent reviews:

Here's one from the Montreal Gazette:

Published: Saturday, July 08, 2006
By Susan Glickman
Goose Lane Editions,
250 pages, $22.95

Our lives are like musical compositions, sometimes featuring discordant, crashing notes, sometimes a stately adagio and at other times, a joyful crescendo.

Poet Susan Glickman uses music as both metaphor and plot device in her first novel, a moving, sparely written story of family, passionate love and strife set in London of the mid-1930s, when anti-Semitism was on the rise and Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts terrorized the Jewish community.

At its heart is an unlikely triangle: Clara Weiss, a lonely, widowed mother of three; her oldest son, Jacob, a piano prodigy who tries to be the man of the family; and Ned Abraham, a violinist and a doctor who has always gone through life hedging his bets.

Indeed, Ned became a general practitioner because he was scared he wouldn't be good enough as a musician, and he still lives with his mother in order to keep himself emotionally available, preferring instead to have affairs with married, clever and exotic women. The progeny of bitter Russian Jewish immigrants, he has a primordial need to blend into Anglo-Saxon society; he's a dogged cosmopolitan who avoids custom and tradition like the plague.

We first meet Ned as he strolls along London's Embankment, wrapped in a luxurious cashmere coat, as he contemplates a concert he has just attended. His reverie is interrupted by the calls of boys who discover a bloated body floating in the river. When the crowd calls for a doctor, Ned at first steps forward, but the sight of the body somehow makes him recoil.

"Why should the sudden death of a complete stranger seem more significant than the slow dissolution of a sick man?" Glickman writes in Ned's detached voice. "Was it a particular failing in him or was it a general rule that anything unknown seemed more important than familiar things did?"

Death is too real. Ned walks on.

Clara and Jacob first meet him at a Christmas concert, after the 11-year-old boy has bowled over the crowd with Schumann's Aufschwung (Soaring); Ned is impressed enough to allow himself to be corralled into performing a duet with him.

To Jacob, Ned represents all his hopes and dreams - a man whom he sees as his surrogate father, an artist who heals people and speaks to him as an equal. He adores the older man's tendency to split hairs in order to be accurate, for he, too, needs to always be accurate about everything, and his imperfect, sloppy and single mother, caught up in her family and making ends meet from one day to the next, can be embarrassing. Why, consider the time she picked him up at school with a blob of raspberry jam on her sleeve!

Clara, who finds Ned attractive, suspects that while he may be very good at healing others, he can't heal himself. As he practices with her son, she hardly lets herself think of a romantic relationship until he comes to her family's seder and steals a kiss after the meal.

Their relationship is fraught with tension; Ned can't handle seeing Clara and Jacob at the same time because that smacks too much of becoming a family, while she is tormented by her need for Ned, even at the expense of her children.

Take for granted that this isn't a book where true adult love, or what passes for it, prevails.

Rather, Glickman has written a wrenching tale that captures the longing of a preteen as easily as the confusion of his mother and the calculated detachment of Ned. The voices may be different, but somehow they work with each other as in a sonata, a composition usually structured in three parts that Jacob describes to his mother early on in the book: "Happy, sad, happy - major key, minor key, major key."
Sometimes, though, the minor keys take precedence. The Violin Lover, with its sad-happy-sad structure, is a good example. And like the final note at the end of a fugue, it resonates long after it's done.

Lisa Fitterman writes a weekly column for The Gazette's "Arts & Life" section.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006

Or how about the Toronto music monthly, Whole Note?

Toronto poet and literary critic Susan Glickman sets her first novel, The Violin Lover (Goose Lane Editions, $22.95), in London and, briefly, Vienna, against the ominous backdrop of the rise of the Nazis under Hitler. But the situation she explores ultimately has little to do with politics.

Ned Abraham, a character based on Glickman's great-great-uncle, is a Jewish doctor whose passion is music. He plays violin with pianist Jacob Weiss, a 12-year-old child prodigy who thinks about sonata form when he hears fairy tales. When Ned has an affair with Jacob's widowed mother, Clara, the consequences are disastrous.

Glickman is an elegant, vivid and imaginative writer. She is able to convincingly portray intelligent people talking about things that matter to them, even when their behaviour is not so intelligent. Her depictions of relationships between mothers and sons are especially resonant. Best of all, she gets the music right, both in the technical details and the way it infuses the spiritual lives of her characters.

-- Pamela Margles, "Book Shelf", The Whole Note, July 1-September 7, 2006, 49.

And of course, Books in Canada:

Poet Susan Glickman fashions this engaging tale around the true story of a black sheep great-great-uncle who lost his medical license in 1930s London for performing an abortion on his mistress. Glickman pulls no punches when she introduces the fictional Dr Ned Abraham, her eponymous violin lover. Observing the body of an old Jewish man washing up on he River Thames, he passes by, allowing others to attend to it. His head in his music, he eschews responsibility.

Then he meets a gifted child pianist, Jacob Weiss, who plays Schumann as if he's on horseback: "the wind whistled by and he was riding the piano in the bliss of it, entirely alone." Ned reluctantly assumes the role of mentor to the fatherless Jacob, only to discover he rather enjoys it. Equally enjoyable is his passionate affair with the boy's widowed mother, Clara. When her bourgeois sister discovers he has terminated Clara's pregnancy, she insists her sister report him and exact her reluctant revenge.

Not only does Glickman meet the challenge of making this not entirely likable man come to complex life, her language expertly mirrors the rhythms of life and music. This is Clara, the elemental mother bathing her small children: "they were seals they were otters, hers and not hers, not entirely human yet." In contrast, Ned's love is for "the current that sings" between himself and his instrument, the violin that "sounds like a voice... its belly made of spruce, soft and yielding, its back of hard maple." Their mutual sensuality makes for a heady affair, but afterward, when Clara is cast aside, it is her maturing son who develops a complexity similar to the doctor's. Glickman's backdrop shows us the texture of Jewish life in London: the music, the politics, the growing Blackshirt menace, the realities of children and home. These endure after the love affair has faded to silence.

-- Nancy Wigston, "First Novels," Books in Canada, Summer 2006, 37.

Or the online magazine, January:

"Disparate Chords"

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen

"Music is the art of time, pure temporality abstracted from word or concept. Time as experienced by God and only guessed at by man—rhythm and cadence, variable and pliant as air. Music is what you hear when you really listen ... And music is the art that stops time."

This, according to Ned Abraham, a practicing doctor who also is a violin virtuoso, is because when you play music you are playing toward the ideal performance which, if attainable, would only be followed by silence. Hence music is the art that seeks its own extinction.

Wow. Luckily, this comes halfway through The Violin Lover, a novel by Toronto poet and literary critic, Susan Glickman. Makes you stop and think. It wouldn't be my definition, but then I don't know music and musicians the way Glickman obviously does. And if she doesn't, she's done one staggering amount of research to give her total credibility.

Her research ranges well beyond the world of music. She's set her story in Jewish London in the 1930s, with Hitler's menace looming. A near destitute widow with three children, Clara has been encouraging her gifted 11-year old son, Jacob, to play the piano. They meet the doctor at Jacob's recital and eventually the former finds himself reluctantly agreeing to work on a duet with the serious young musician. While Jacob's sorrow at the loss of his father makes him only too eager for a relationship with an adult, Ned is slower to warm to the boy. Eventually, however, a friendship is formed through a shared love of music and the doctor's admiration for his young protégé's dedication.

More than a friendship is forged, unfortunately, with the boy's mother. The red-haired, passionate Clara quickly falls for Ned and is soon dreaming of the security and stability of a marriage with him. How perfect a father he would be for the adoring Jacob. The doctor, however, has never envisioned a life with four dependents. A womanizer, a traveler and a busy doctor who has his practice in the family home he shares with his mother, his feelings for Clara are largely sexual. They share little in common other than the boy and a physical attraction. Eventually the inevitable occurs; she falls pregnant and as attacks on Jews build and events spin out of control, each finds less than the life they dreamt of.

I found myself wishing for a feistier, more interesting Clara. A saint during the illness and death of her husband, and almost a martyr in her dedication and attention to her fatherless children, her passion turns her into a cliché: the desperate, plaintive, demanding mistress, the total slave of love. She's indecisive, weak and wallowing in a self-pity she never showed during her husband's long illness. Ned, however, is brilliantly portrayed. Clever and hard working, he's a man who will always put the brain above the heart, whose emotions will never rule his actions. Glickman cleverly foreshadows the man and his life in the first chapter, when walking by London's Embankment, he spies a drowned Jew and the gathering crowd, and chooses to turn away when someone calls for a doctor, telling himself there is no point. It was the unpleasantness he wished to avoid; the interruption of his routine for no beneficial result. He's a man who wishes he could paint because in art, at least, there is no corruption. "Things stay the same forever." We know well before Clara does that she's no match for him, an intellectual skating on the emotional surface of life who would never venture out when the ice is too thin.

Unfolding over a period of three years, while Hitler drives the world ever closer to war, The Violin Lover is impacted by the atmosphere, never overpowering but definitely underlining the actions of the characters. It resonates in the background, the tension of this gathering storm adding much to the tale. Interestingly, it's a story that ultimately reflects Ned's feelings about that perfect musical performance. When you read a good book, don't you also want to close that cover and be silent? To think about and savor it for a time, not even tempted to read another until the possibility of literary perfection again rears its head? Clever Glickman.

| September 2006

Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event magazine.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Back from Blue Metropolis Bleu festival in Montreal. Read with Yann Martel and Camilla Gibb, and had a book launch at which the refreshments were consumed by attendees at the previous event in the same room. A good time was had by all!

Upcoming: Ottawa Literary Festival reading at the National Library of Canada, as below:

THURSDAY, April 20 @ 8:30 pm
Writing Life #2:
Linda Holeman, Susan Glickman and Martha Baillie
$15 / $12 Student or Senior / $8 Festival Member

An evening of acclaimed fiction with an international flavour: The Moonlit Cage, set in 1850's Afghanistan, the latest from Linda Holeman; The Violin Lover, set in 1930's Europe, the debut novel from acclaimed poet Susan Glickman; and The Shape I Gave You, a story of memory and the weight of guilt from Martha Baillie.

"Well-paced, creative and addictive."
- Winnipeg Free Press on Linda Holeman

"One of the finest of the new generation of Canadian writers."
- The Journal of Commonwealth Literature on Susan Glickman

"Haunting... Full of finely wrought detail."
- Bronwyn Drainie on Martha Baillie

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Lovely Review in the Globe and Mail Saturday April 1st -- No Fooling!!

Lovely Review in the Globe and Mail Saturday April 1st -- No Fooling!!

Sonata for three


The Violin Lover

By Susan Glickman

Goose Lane, 250 pages, $22.95

In her first novel, The Violin Lover, Canadian poet Susan Glickman trains her clear eye upon the nature of, and conflicts between, art, domesticity and identity. Like its protagonist, Dr. Edward Abraham, The Violin Lover's passionate core is concealed -- but not obscured -- by a cool, elegant layer of observation. Each moment is captured in richly descriptive language, pure, poetic and precise. Not surprisingly, since Glickman is the author of five acclaimed poetry collections, including the recent Running in Prospect Cemetery (2004), in addition to a prize-winning volume of literary criticism. With The Violin Lover, she makes a seamless transition from poetry to prose.

Set in London, the novel begins in the autumn of 1934, concluding in spring, 1936. This brief year-and-a-half brings together Clara Weiss, an attractive young widow; Jacob, her 11-year-old son and a piano prodigy; and Edward, doctor, violinist and lover. A passion for music brings them together, but it is Clara and Ned's mutual passion that ultimately drives them apart.

Ned is the apex of this triangle. Both Clara and Jacob seek a fulfilment in him that is doomed. Jacob is searching for both a musical soulmate, for "they both possessed a spiritual hunger for which music was a form of sustenance," and a father figure, someone in whom "he found himself moving towards the kind of speculations he once shared with his father." Clara initially seeks a physical soulmate in Ned: "Their hunger was mutual and intemperate. . . . Clara had never experienced such urgency of desire before." But eventually, Clara, warm and loving, needs more than a sexual affair, but Clara and Jacob embody the twin horrors that Ned has, until now, scrupulously avoided: the fetters of domestic responsibility and his own Jewish identity.

Is domesticity inimical to artistic creation and personal autonomy? Ned and Clara's competing histories and needs illuminate the difficulties of creating timeless art -- for Ned, music, for Clara, painting -- while tied to temporal responsibilities. Abandoned by his rabble-rousing, anarchist father for the Bolshevik revolution, raised by a coldly distant mother, Ned has never experienced felicity in domestic relationships. Quoting a character from a Henry James short story -- "One has no business having any children if one wants to accomplish anything artistic" -- Ned resolutely follows that dictum with the freedom inherent in male privilege.

Clara, abandoning private fantasies of art school and travel, obediently follows the conventional path of marriage and children. Yet, despite her frustrated aspirations, she asserts: "Could any painting I might have made be as precious as my children are? Never! Of that I am sure." Ned and Clara's discord is never tritely polemical and Glickman takes no sides. They are creatures of their time and place.

And what a time and place to be Jewish. The quieter, more discreet melody of polite British anti-Semitism is now accompanied by the rising, crude ostinato of Hitler's terror and Britain's own fascist Black Shirts. Unlike Clara, Ned finds no strength or pride in his heritage. His Jewishness is an unredeemable history of loss and pain, of vulgar epithets ("sheeny") and Lucy Chadwick, "fresh as the dawn of Creation, fair hair knife-edged and shining," forbidden to him, a "shabby little Jew." Ultimately, Ned realizes that he hates being Jewish "because other people's contempt made him feel ashamed."

It is not just Clara's "relentless maternity" that disturbs Ned, nor Jacob's innocent admiration, but their Jewishness, a history "he had so fervently rejected." It threatens the identity Ned has constructed for himself: the cool sophisticate, the talented violinist, yearning to disappear into the café society of Vienna, his true mistress of "brilliant anonymous façades, the glitter of street-lamps on cobblestones." As their worlds collide, disaster seems inevitable.

Early in The Violin Lover, Jacob explains to his mother the sonata, a musical form generally used to structure the first movement of a composition from the classical 18th century to the 20th century. He explains the complex form with simplicity: "Happy, sad, happy -- major key, minor key, major key." But sometimes, the form is reversed. Dividing the novel into three parts, Glickman masterfully structures The Violin Lover in sonata form, mirroring and reflecting the musical and narrative themes that underpin the book. Part One, the exposition, introduces the thematic melodies of Clara, Jacob and Ned. In Part Two, the development, their melodies begin to intertwine as their relationships grow and deepen. In Part Three, the recapitulation, the melodies separate as they are agonizingly torn apart.

Glickman's mastery and maturity are evident in The Violin Lover. Its final moments are as moving and inevitable as the flow of music toward its conclusion. Readers will be richly rewarded by the beauty and power of her artistry.

Dvoira Yanovsky is a special education teacher and a book reviewer for Outlook

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Great Review in the National Post Saturday March 25

"Violence and violins converge in London"

Michael Greenstein
Weekend Post
Saturday, March 25, 2006


By Susan Glickman
Goose Lane Editions
242 pp., $22.95

Like Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Don Coles, Anne Michaels, Michael Redhill and a host of other Canadian writers, Susan Glickman has taken a turn from verse to fiction. An accomplished poet and non-fiction author, she manages the transition to her first novel, The Violin Lover, with assurance. Whereas Anne Michaels's Fugitive Pieces uses music in a more metaphoric and abstract sense, Glickman's knowing narrator looks back to the more traditional prose forms of Henry Kreisel and Adele Wiseman.

In the 19th century, Walter Pater maintained that all art aspires toward the condition of music, and The Violin Lover adheres to this maxim. Set in London in the mid-1930s, this passionate love story is structured around seasonal rhythms as well as a three-part musical composition, like the sonata form, suited to the subject of a love triangle. In addition, the cyclical rhythms of these Vivaldian seasons underscore finely attuned repetitions in a contrapuntal fugue form.

The first movement, "Autumn-Winter 1934," is subdivided into three chapters -- "A Body," "Aufschwung" and "Jewish Music." "A Body" opens with a slow andante rhythm: "The boys were riding the sphinx when they noticed it, floating down the Thames in a leisurely way... Their shrill voices interrupted Dr. Edward Abraham's post-concert reverie as he strolled along the Embankment." This mysterious bearded corpse is never identified (though it is thought to be a Jew), and Dr. Abraham, the protagonist familiarly known as Ned, chooses to ignore it, just as he flees from other emotional issues and commitments in the novel.

A physician by day, Ned also plays the violin, which leads him to a meeting with Jacob Weiss, a promising young pianist, and his mother, Clara, with whom Ned soon has a complicated affair. Ned is not only a patriarch, but a wanderer forced to leave his home, as do so many of the fathers in this fatherless novel. The man about town longs to be a man of the world: On the one hand, the modern Wandering Jew is exiled from the ghetto in search of a broader emancipation; on the other hand, he abandons tradition and domesticity in the person of his wife and children. This inner conflict forms but one of the many tensions in Glickman's historic fiction, tensions that are finely adjusted, as the strings on a violin.

Ned's river walk continues in the andante movement: "Fishing and music had always provided the most reliable solace, and they remained linked in his imagination. Slow arts, both of them, demanding patience and attention and endless repetition." Glickman's omniscient narrator orchestrates her characters and modulates repetitions in a variety of minor and major keys. She unfolds the complexities of Ned's character, especially his relationship to Jacob and Clara.

As the narrative shifts from Ned to Jacob, we are offered the child's perspective that develops throughout the novel. Jacob's piano recital of Schumann's "Aufschwung" (which means "soaring" -- another leitmotif that unravels during the course of the novel) impresses everyone, and his teacher arranges for him to play in the future with Dr. Abraham, who eventually serves as his surrogate father. Jacob has recently lost his father to stomach cancer; Ned's father abandoned his family to return to Russia for the futile Bolshevik cause; a natural affinity between the two fatherless sons grows into a symbiotic relationship beyond their musical accompaniment.

Yet, given Ned's isolationist, distancing character, he cannot get involved beyond a certain point. His cosmopolitan need for freedom eliminates the possibility of any domestic attachment. Alternating between Ned's life and Jacob's life, Glickman's narrative plays a duet between violin and piano, weaving in and out of their overlapping lives, with Clara caught in between.

"Jewish Music" refers to Mendelssohn's "Song without Words", which Jacob plays for Clara, but Jewish music lies also at the core of The Violin Lover. The chapter begins with three generations and domestic details in Clara's family, shifts to Ned's violin and medical practice, reverts to Jacob at the piano, back to Ned's practice and family background, continues with Clara's family background and concludes with Ned's domestic and hospital routine. These sequences form a satisfying pattern interspersed with the narrator offering the history and esthetics of musical instruments, and examining Ned's heart, which is "hidden and inconsolable."

In addition to the tragic inner drama between Clara and Ned, we are reminded of the looming tragedy in Europe with the rise of the Nazis. This impinges on Jacob's family directly when Oswald Mosley's hooligan Blackshirts attack his grandfather's place in London's East End, an incident that follows the Passover Seder with Clara's family. The heated political exchanges during the Seder not only increase the tempo, but also point to the uncomfortable position of Jews in an anti-Semitic society. Ned has never felt at home in England and wishes to escape to Vienna with its romantic musical history; Clara, who has never travelled, longs for that kind of romantic escapism as well; but neither of them succeeds in this endeavour. Inner and outer worlds converge catastrophically: "What was happening in Germany became a kind of counterpoint to their affair. First they would make love, then they would argue."

Even if violins and violence are not etymologically related, they are close enough in sound to make sense: "Both the piano and the violin make music by causing strings to vibrate. Perhaps an ancient archer heard the thrumming of his string after the arrow had taken flight... Was it because of such inadvertent discoveries that Apollo, god of music, was twinned with his sister Artemis, goddess of the hunt?" Glickman pulls at her characters' and readers' heartstrings: Ned impregnates Clara, convinces her to have an abortion, then deserts her, though not without making plans for Jacob's education. Ned may be a good man at heart, but his heart is faulty. After performing the abortion, he loses his licence and leaves for Austria where the Alps swallow him, uniting him with his father in Russia and the abandoned body in the Thames.

If the soaring Alps belong to the "sublime," then Clara's painting (which she resumes at the end) partakes of the "picturesque" mode -- a subject Glickman covers in her critical study of the poetics of the Canadian landscape. As a first novel, The Violin Lover neither misses a beat nor strikes a false note.

© National Post 2006

And one in the Globe and Mail today:

Sunday, March 26, 2006

If anybody has found themselves here for whatever reason, welcome. Do please send a greeting so I know that it isn't all radio silence out there. I've no idea where this thing is going or how it will relate to the web-site I really ought to be making, but it's a small toddler step into cyberspace on the occasion of publishing a novel and wanting to invite dialogue from readers.

So hello whoever you are, and do drop in!


getting the kinks out

I'm trying to post to my new blog but can't tell if this is working.
The Violin Lover was launched at Nicholas Hoare Bookshop in Toronto on Wednesday, March 22. Great ambience, good food and wine, warm vibes, lots of fun. Wish you could have come! Here are a few photos from the evening.