Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Prague Sonata

by Bradford Morrow

From the critically acclaimed author Bradford Morrow, a literary quest novel that travels from Nazi-occupied Prague to turn-of-the-millennium New York as a young musicologist seeks to solve the mystery behind an eighteenth-century sonata manuscript.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 528
  • Publication Date September 18, 2018
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2868-3
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 528
  • Publication Date October 03, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2715-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00

About the Book

Music and war, war and music—these are the twin motifs around which Bradford Morrow, recipient of the Academy Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, has composed his magnum opus, The Prague Sonata, a novel over ten years in the making.

In the early days of the new millennium, pages of a weathered original sonata manuscript—the gift of a Czech immigrant living out her final days in Queens—come into the hands of Meta Taverner, a young musicologist whose concert piano career was cut short by an injury. To Meta’s eye, it appears to be an authentic eighteenth-century work; to her discerning ear, the music rendered there is hauntingly beautiful, clearly the composition of a master. But there is no indication of who the composer might be. The gift comes with the request that Meta attempt to find the manuscript’s true owner—a Prague friend the old woman has not heard from since the Second World War forced them apart—and to make the three-part sonata whole again. Leaving New York behind for the land of Dvorák and Kafka, Meta sets out on an unforgettable search to locate the remaining movements of the sonata and uncover a story that has influenced the course of many lives, even as it becomes clear that she isn’t the only one after the music’s secrets.

Magisterially evoking decades of Prague’s tragic and triumphant history, from the First World War through the soaring days of the Velvet Revolution, and moving from postwar London to the heartland of immigrant America, The Prague Sonata is both epic and intimate, evoking the ways in which individual notes of love and sacrifice become part of the celebratory symphony of life.

Tags Literary

Praise for The Prague Sonata

“Twining music history with the political tumults of the 20th century, The Prague Sonata is a sophisticated, engrossing intellectual mystery . . . At the heart of the adventure story is a sensitive exploration of music’s strange power to encode memories into its themes and progressions . . . [Morrow’s] captivating, hopeful book presents a vision of the broken past, restored.”―Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“Bradford Morrow is an astonishing writer. His short fictions are brilliantly macabre, and his longer fictions are epic adventures in which obsessive particularities―in this case the provenance of a piano sonata presumed to be of the late 18th century―transform entire lives in the most unexpected and remarkable ways. Having explored the netherworld of ingenious fakery in The Forgers, Morrow now explores an even more intricately rendered world of rivalrous musicologists in his most ambitious novel to date, The Prague Sonata.”―Joyce Carol Oates

The Prague Sonata is music scored for the reader’s imagination, expertly arranged―at once suspenseful and meditative, classical and surprising, devastating and genuinely inspiring. What a gorgeous novel this is. I thought often of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves―the fragmentation and ephemeral unity, its power to absorb us fully into a moving music. Bradford Morrow’s writing is as haunting and as beautiful as the fabled sonata it describes.”―Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

The Prague Sonata is a treasure of a novel, a deliciously enveloping musical mystery which I read with marvel and gusto. I love the duet of Pragues: first the puzzle and intrigue as characters search for a musical bridge between a composer’s early and later works through a city of bridges; how Meta does indeed become a part of the manuscript’s history; the many exquisitely-tuned, lyrical chapter endings; the counterpoint of plots in which people ‘chase ideas across curious landscapes’ from one continent to another; the melodic lines of characters and how tempting it is to liken the book’s structure to sonata form; and not least the sweethearts. I’m absolutely bowled over by Morrow’s ability to use dialogue, which seems to steer the novel so effortlessly. A virtuoso performance!”―Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper’s Wife

The Prague Sonata is a mighty, epic novel that only Bradford Morrow could have written. Moving from New York to Prague to London and beyond, it is a major and compelling work about the persistence of a smart, determined woman with a real commitment both to music and to truth. Rich in historical detail, beautifully sharp when it comes to music and manuscripts, The Prague Sonata challenges us to consider what it means to save culture in the face of forces that want to achieve power at its expense. Morrow has given us a masterful novel that’s necessary for our times.”―Brian Evenson, author of The Open Curtain


“This rich, masterful novel brilliantly explores the complex tumble of history, the human capacity for good and for evil, the fragile but redeeming glory of art. Morrow has long been one of America’s finest novelists. And this humanely epic tale is his finest book.”―Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Perfume River

“Bradford Morrow has written his masterpiece. The Prague Sonata is a rich, joyous, complex journey into the city of Prague, the claims made upon us by music, and several dark, dark corners of human experience. In the right hands, as here, the novel can throw open its windows, rear up on its back legs, and tear off down the street, singing at the top of its lungs.”―Peter Straub, author of Interior Darkness: Selected Stories

“Music and war come to a crescendo in Bradford Morrow’s The Prague Sonata.”―Vanity Fair, “Hot type”

“A highlight of the year for me . . . [A] wonderful, vast novel.”—Bill Goldstein, “Bill’s Books,” NBC

“[A] textured, style-rich historical novel . . . enjoyable for anyone who loves a symphony of words.”―Booklist (starred review)

“Music infuses Morrow’s descriptions of war, revolution, peace, love, friendship, and betrayal. Finely crafted storytelling . . . The reading pleasure comes from both Meta’s pursuit and the prose, which brims with musical, historical, and cultural detail.”―Publishers Weekly

“A musical mystery set against the backdrop of a nation shattered by war and loss . . . sonically rich . . . an elegant foray into music and memory.”―Kirkus Reviews

The Prague Sonata is a sweeping narrative, through 200 years and across two continents, that examines the relationship of music to people and their cultural landscapes.”―Lincoln Journal-Star

The Prague Sonata is more than a superb multiperiod novel; it reads like a concerto by one of the masters. . . . Meta is the well-rounded, passionate soloist who waltzes us through The Prague Sonata under Morrow’s deft baton, and makes us fall in love with his literary artistry. Highly recommended.”—Historical Novel Society

“A beautifully written literary work . . . A love poem to music and the city and peoples of Prague . . . The narrative’s beauty carries the reader to the final note.”―Mystery Scene

“Crisscrossing the globe and a hundred years of history . . . [The Prague Sonata] delivers historical and artistic scholarship in a potboiler format that resists the car chases while still delivering an academic whodunit―or, in this case, ‘Where is it?’ . . . for fans of historical romances, Morrow’s intricate novel will . . . hit all the right notes.”―Chronogram

“A sweeping, rich novel that moves through history from World War I, through World War II, into the fall of the Soviet Union and up to the present day, as it affects Czechoslovakia. Weaving throughout the story, with its rich and complex characters, is a hauntingly beautiful anonymous piano sonata that has been broken up into three parts. With writing that is multilayered and moves seamlessly throughout, it touches deep into the human heart.”―Richard Corbett, Powell’s Books, Portland, OR

“Bradford Morrow’s enormous talent brings both Czechoslovakia of the early twentieth century roaring to life, as well as perfectly capturing our present-day protagonist, gracefully unwinding the secrets of the past. With each beautifully intimate moment The Prague Sonata will capture your heart, all the while the fascinating mystery at its center alights your imagination.”―Luisa Smith, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA

“Beautiful and compassionate and profound. A truly marvelous story.”―James S. Jaffe, James S. Jaffe Rare Books, New York, NY

“As entrancing as the musical piece in question, The Prague Sonata weaves through decades of mystery. A young musicologist whose performing career was cut short must tread through Prague as carefully as her fingers once caressed piano keys, as she seeks to reunite three long-missing manuscripts of sublime music. An added bonus: Morrow takes us into the neighborhoods and squares of one of the most beguiling cities on Earth.”―Rosemary Pugliese, Spellbound Bookshop, Asheville, NC

“This is a book for those who like their fiction long and immersive―most especially those with a love of music . . . Prague’s history, the history of a composer who will remain unnamed to preserve the plot’s tension, a cast of characters that spans decades and oceans, and more than one love story make this a read that is fascinating in terms of its scholarship, musical in terms of its themes and its writing, breathtakingly paced yet epic in scope, simultaneously intimate and grand.”―Betsy Burton, King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, UT

“A book to immerse yourself in and enjoy.”―Jan Hall, Partners Village Store, Westport, MA

“A magnificent obsession sparks Morrow’s gorgeous novel . . . A plot as intricate as a sonata winds together the German occupation of Prague in 1939; an authentic eighteenth-century musical score hidden from the Nazis; and the life of Meta Taverner, a young musicologist.”―Audiofile Magazine


A Buzz Books pick for fall/winter
An Indie Next pick for October 2017


With reverent delicacy, she turned the pages one by one, eyes traveling across the busy staves that filled each leaf. This wasn’t going to be easy to play. Unaware she was doing so, she hummed an occasional phrase, tapped her toe gently on the floor. Meta might have sat down with the manuscript at her piano and performed it then and there. But she didn’t want to listen to it until she’d had time to study the piece, learn what its composer was saying.

This was not your everyday second movement of a sonata, despite Irena’s recollecting that’s what it probably was. Brazen in its initial runs, the music settled now and again, only to move away into knotty clusters of sixteenth notes, like an impish acrobat who pretends to teeter off his tightrope high above the crowd, flails his arms as if he’s about to fall, until, nimbly, in slow motion, he moves on.

Then, a plunge off a cliff—everything shifted to blacker registers. Gone was the acrobat. Gone were the playful, bucolic pace and tone of the earlier passage, which was, it now occurred to Meta, a feint, a dramatic setup. The meat, the soul of the dolorous passage had such a rich, slow sadness to it that, surprised, she turned back to the opening and reread the movement up to this radical shift in mood.

With its moments of staggering power and slyness, the music seemed as fresh that day, to this young woman in her barbell flat, as it must have sounded when it was conceived. Who was the conceiver, though? And where were the fore and aft of this noteworthy craft?