Fifteen-year-old Konstantin is a brash, brilliant pianist of exceptional sensitivity in the bleak and controlled environment of Sofia, Bulgaria, in the 1980s, struggling toward adulthood in a society where honest expression often comes at a terrible cost. Confined to the militaristic Music School for the Gifted for most of each day and a good part of the night, Konstantin exults in his small rebellions—smoking, drinking, and mocking Party pomp and cant at every opportunity. Through it all, Konstantin plays the piano with inflamed passion, transported by unparalleled explorations of Chopin, Debussy, and Bach, even as he is cursed by his teachers’ numbing efforts at mind control. Hypnotic and headlong, Wunderkind’s dazzling portrait of youthful turmoil gives us a stunningly urgent, exquisitely observed, and wonderfully tragicomic glimpse behind the Iron Curtain at the very end of the Cold War while reminding us of the sometimes life-saving grace of great music.
Reading Group Guide
Brash, brilliant fifteen-year-old Konstantin is teetering on the brink of self-destruction. He is a world-class pianist of exceptional sensitivity, but his propulsive rage at Soviet oppression threatens his career and his sanity. He is graced by the beauty and freedom of Chopin, Debussy, and Bach, but he is cursed by the numbing mind controls of the apparatchiks at Sofia’s Music School for the Gifted. Konstantin is a classic bad boy: drinking and smoking throughout the school day, eluding the Communist Party’s pomp and ceremony, and pining for Irina, a smoldering violinist who races Konstantin down the path of self-annihilation. The piano is both his refuge and his tether to a world he cannot abide—if he can avoid getting kicked out of school, the piano could also be his ticket out of Bulgaria.
But who can concentrate on Chopin when there are so many practical jokes to play and so many ways to seduce Irina? Konstantin’s music teachers cannot save him from himself. When the Iron Curtain falls, Konstanti see more