Wunderkind

Wunderkind

A Novel

  • reading group guide
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.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451616941 | 
  • June 2012
List Price $15.00
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Read an Excerpt

Rachmaninov,
“Vocalise,” op. 34, no. 14

November 3, 1987


Russian midgets are the tallest and Russian watches are the fastest, went the joke, and my watch—a Sputnik, which I had bought in Moscow after my recital at the National Conservatory—lived up to its reputation. On average it gained about two extra hours a week, which, considering my incurable habit of arriving late for every class or meeting, was quite helpful. I kept it in the front pocket of my brown leather shoulder bag, as I couldn’t bear having anything on my wrist.

“It’s somewhere between ten thirty and... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Wunderkind includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Nikolai Grozni. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

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

About the Author

Nikolai Grozni
Photograph by Marion Ettlinger

Nikolai Grozni

Nikolai Grozni began training as a classical pianist at age four, and won his first major award in Salerno, Italy, at the age of ten. Grozni's acclaimed memoir Turtle Feet follows his four years spent as a Buddhist monk studying at the Institute of Tibetan Dialectics in Dharamsala, and later at a monastery in South India. Grozni holds an MFA in creative writing from Brown University. He lives with his wife and their children in France.

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