The political gets personal.
The personal sacrifices required of classically trained musicians to hone their craft are nearly absolute. Isabel Merton, the pianist at the center of Polish-born Eva Hoffman's novel Appassionata, has made those sacrifices with the regrettable side effect of leaving her ill-equipped to deal with the harsh realities of the world outside of her music. On the first stop of a European tour—which also provides the structural trajectory of the novel—Isabel meets Anzor Izlikhanov, a diplomat of the Chechen government and a borderline terrorist. The "permeable" nature of Isabel's personality, the quality that allows her to give herself over entirely to the music she plays, allows her to get sucked into a relationship with Anzor, and also pulls her dangerously close to rebel groups in his extended circle. However, the two characters are quickly reduced to enacting opposing points of view and their relationship unfortunately never develops further. Hoffman, a classically trained pianist, is a sensitive, intelligent writer and Appassionata is filled with many deft, insightful observations about music, cultural traditions, moral culpability, and plain old desire. Ironically, it's the same irreconcilable split between her protagonists that makes Appassionata feel imbalanced and ultimately frustrating.