We cast the shadows of our emotions on others and they theirs on us. Sometimes we threaten to choke on them. But without them there would be no light in our lives.
Ancient Armenian grave inscription

In Pascal Mercier’s Lea, two men, the narrator and Martin van Vliet, first meet each other at a cafĂ© in Provence. Van Vliet has come to the Provence to visit his daughter, Lea, who is patient at a hospital in Avignon.

When the two learn, they are both from Bern, van Vliet invites the narrator to drive with him back to Switzerland. Along the way, van Vliet unfolds the sad tale of his daughter, Lea, and professional life as a surgeon.

The tale begins with the death of van Vliet’s wife. Their grief stricken young daughter, Lea, falls into a deep depression and isolates herself from the world. Then one day by chance, she comes alive, when she hears a violinist playing Bach in a train station.

“Now I heard what had made Lea pause: the sound of a violin. How often I have wondered what would have become of my daughter if we hadn’t done that! If chance had not played those sounds to us.”

She begins to learn how to play the instrument after he buys her a violin and vows to do everything possible to keep her content. In turn, Lea practices relentlessly and in time becomes a superb violinist, winning competition after competition.

“…she picked it up and started to play. Just as if she had been waiting all that time for someone to bring her, at long last, the instrument for which she was born.”

“The aimlessness that had accompanied her grief over her dead mother had come to an end. She had a will again! And what made me overjoyed: I could do something. The time of being a helpless onlooker was over.”

But then, Lea makes a mistake and loses a competition. Once again, she becomes depressed, van Vliet tries to think of what he can do to bring her back to life one more time. He hits upon the idea of buying her a priceless Guarneri Del Gusu violin.

This draws van Vliet into the theft of his research grant, whereupon he travels to Italy to use the embezzled funds to purchase the violin. The auction doesn’t go as planned, nor does Lea’s use of the violin.

However, for a while Lea plays beautifully once again. “After months in which that face had lost all its tension and prematurely aged, it was once again the face of Lea van Vliet, the radiant violinist who filled the whole auditoria.”

After Pascal Mercier wrote Night Train to Lisbon, which I have read at least three times, as well as seeing the movie adaptation, I looked upon anything he wrote as a “must read.” However, I didn’t finish his Perlmann’s Silence and, while I finished Lea, it didn’t bring me as much pleasure as Night Train to Lisbon. Indeed, far from it.

I found the novel repetitious and overly dramatic. On the other hand, I was intrigued by the friendship between the narrator and van Vliet, the fraught relationship between Lea and her father, as well and the power of the violin to both give meaning and destroy a person’s life.