The Bridgetower Sonata

Schaffner. Apr. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9781943156887. $25.99.
In a departure from his previous work, award-winning Congolese novelist Dongala (Johnny Mad Dog) reimagines a historical period: the career of George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, a child-prodigy violinist in 18th-century Europe. George debuts in Paris under the tutelage of his father, Frederick de Augustus, who passes as an African prince though he’s from Barbados; George’s mother is Polish. Thus, while Dongala offers a fine-tuned understanding of music, he is aiming for more, addressing issues of race, class, and the continuing shadow of enslavement over the era. As Frederick parades his son around Europe to bring in much-needed funds (a parallel to the relationship between Mozart and his father), George meets luminaries, from Thomas Jefferson to the Marquis de Lafayette, and is eventually befriended by an ascendant Beethoven, who dedicates his Bridgetower violin and piano sonata to him. Even music aficionados might not have heard that title; after a falling-out, Beethoven rechristened the work as his renowned Kreutzer Sonata. In the end, Dongala reveals how fractious human interaction can be.
VERDICT Charming in its details and sharply perceptive in its intent, this fluidly translated work is not just for music lovers but for everyone interested in the culture and history of its setting, and in the risks of friendship.
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