Mysteries of Silence

From the front flap of Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson, a beautifully written book that moved me deeply:

On a midsummer day in Auckland, New Zealand, two events occur that will change composer Adam Ankar’s life forever. As a result, Adam embarks on a journey to uncover his family’s past that takes him from New Zealand to Krakow, Poland, where he learns of his parents’ fate during World War II, and finally to Sweden. There he meets the mother of his child for the first time in over twenty years and must face the impossible choice she once forced him to make.

In Sonata for Miriam a musician searches for his roots, his real family, and the woman he fell in love with long ago. There is much that is never said in this novel as silence and unspoken words become its central theme. The following quotation appears on the first page:

But words must be found, for besides words there is almost nothing. Szymon Laks

Adam Ankar never knew who his father was for most of his life. He says, Silence was imposed on me from the very beginning, and I lived with it until it because my own. There were no answers, so there was no place for questions. Adam’s mother was silent about his family, where they came from, and who his father was, and Adam found it impossible to ask her about him.

They had fled from Poland to Sweden during the war where he eventually fell in love with another musician, Cecilia. After she becomes pregnant, she asks him to choose between her and their child. We never learn exactly why and neither of them ever speaks about it. The choice confronting Adam is excruciating, but in the end he chooses to raise their daughter, Miriam, and together they move to a remote island in New Zealand.

He repeats the pattern of silence that his mother set by never speaking to Miriam about her past. When she dies in a tragic accident, he returns to Poland to unravel the mystery of his past and then to Sweden to meet Cecilia after their long separation. But even then, he finds it difficult to talk with her.

But words were never my medium. It was silence that I had been taught. I was an expert on silence. And then, when I needed words more than ever in my life, they completely eluded me.

Ceclia lives alone, also on a remote island, where she and Adam finally meet. Still after nearly two decades of silence, she also finds it difficult to seek the information that you would expect here to crave. She says, I think I became an artist because in my art I was able to express what I could never say.

Together they …sat is silence, holding our glasses, watching the fire.

Cecilia says, Let’s not talk. Not Yet. … if we could keep it at bay, we could draw out this moment that seemed to sit between the past and the present, perilously balancing between memory and hope.