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  1. Book ImageThe Gustav Sonata: A Novel

    Rose Tremain

    Winner of the 2016 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction

    A poignant tale about the enduring friendship between two men under the shadow of the Second World War.

Discussion Questions

  1. Emilie tells Gustav as a child that he should “master himself”—is this good advice? How does the idea of “mastering oneself” affect Gustav, Anton, and Emilie throughout their lives?
  2. At the skating rink, Anton admits to Gustav that he had a sister who died as an infant. How do Adriana and Emilie differ in their parenting of Anton and Gustav, respectively? What accounts for this difference?
  3. When Emilie cares for her ailing mother, we get a glimpse into what her childhood was like. How is her worldview shaped by her upbringing? What is her relationship to poverty? Does Gustav have a similar relationship to poverty?
  4. How does social class affect the friendship between Gustav and Anton? In what ways would their lives be different if Gustav were wealthy and Anton poor?
  5. The characters in The Gustav Sonata must balance love and obligation. How does obligation stand as an obstacle to happiness in Emilie, Erich, Gustav, Anton, and Lottie’s lives? Do you think each character makes the right choice—to follow their hearts or their responsibilities?
  6. Why does Emilie struggle so much to forgive Erich after her miscarriage? How does she see the aftermath of the miscarriage playing out in her life?
  7. Lottie suggests that she and Gustav should remain in Paris, but Gustav sees Paris as an interlude, a fantasy. Why is Davos—also a fantastical place—different for Gustav?
  8. Before Anton leaves for Geneva, he describes visiting the recording studios there as “like a homecoming.” (200) How does Anton’s conception of home alter during the story? How does the idea of home influence Gustav’s character and career?
  9. On page 212 Gustav admits to himself that without the hotel, “he would not have survived.” What does he mean by this? For as much work as he puts into the hotel, what does he get in return?
  10. How do Gustav and Anton each contend with their respective ambitions and limitations? Are either of them able to find an equilibrium?
  11. Why do Colonel Ashley-Norton and Gustav value playing gin rummy? Why does Gustav want to teach it to Anton?
  12. Gustav’s tutor Herr Hodler teaches Gustav that Swiss people should behave “like coconuts.” What are the implications of this behavior with respect to both the characters in the story and to Switzerland as a whole?
  13. From the hospital, Anton urges Gustav: “We must become the people we always should have been.” Do you think either Anton or Gustav could have reached this conclusion at an earlier point in their lives?

About Rose Tremain

Rose Tremain's prize-winning books, including The Road Home, The Gustav Sonata, Merivel, and The American Lover, have been published in thirty countries. Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and member of the Royal Society of Literature, she lives in Norfolk, England with the biographer Richard Holmes.

Books by Rose Tremain

  1. Book CoverThe American Lover

    “A collection of stylish daring, tonal mastery and smart, tough love.”—New York Times Book ReviewMore

  2. Book CoverThe Gustav Sonata: A Novel

    Winner of the 2016 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction

    A poignant tale about the enduring friendship between two men under the shadow of the Second World War.More

  3. Book CoverMerivel: A Man of His Time

    Merivel is an unforgettable hero—soulful, funny, outrageous and achingly sad. His unmistakable, self-mocking voice speaks directly to us down the centuries.More