The Nightingale’s Sonata

Reading Guide Questions


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  1. The title of this book is The Nightingale’s Sonata.  What is the “sonata” and why is it so important?  Who or what is the “nightingale” and could it refer to more than one thing or person?

  2. The sub-title of The Nightingale’s Sonata is “The Musical Odyssey of Lea Luboshutz.” But there are many characters whose lives might be described as an odyssey.  Who are some of these individuals and how do their lives reflect the idea of an epic journey?

  3. The author’s grandmother Lea Luboshutz and her family members were story tellers and the author learned much about them through their stories. By contrast, when he began writing the book, he knew almost nothing about his grandfather Onissim Goldovsky.  Yet he claims that he often felt more confident recounting Onissim’s history than Lea’s. Why is that the case?

  4. Lea’s family has been described as a matriarchy.  Why? Give some examples of how the women so often have to step up and provide family leadership.

  5. Onissim Goldovsky was initially Lea’s patron and then her lover and finally the father of her children.  Yet he was a married man and remained so throughout his life. Why do you think he stayed married?  How important were the various women in his life?

  6. Lea was a child prodigy.  But her son Boris describes that as being a curse.  Do you agree? Why or why not?

  7. Lea had a number of love affairs but she never married.  She also had many friendships with men that were crucial to her life and career.  Describe some of her relationships and the ways in which they mattered.

  8. Lea’s sister, Anna, and her brother, Pierre, ended up having important musical careers.  How were they similar and how were they different from Lea’s and from each other’s?  In what ways did the three siblings’ careers depend on one another? In what ways did their careers and lives diverge? How was this a reflection of their different personalities?

  9. Reinvention is an important theme in the book.  Give some examples of how this plays a role in the lives of some of the most important characters.

  10. Another important theme in the book is continuity.  What are the most compelling examples of continuity, especially continuity from generation to generation?

  11. The author obviously loves most of the main characters in the book.  Yet he is not afraid to show them as imperfect people.  Give some examples of their flaws.

  12. Lea’s daughter suffers many tragic events during her childhood that come to haunt her as an adult.  What are these events and why are they so important to the story? What is the precipitating event that causes her mental breakdown?

  13. How is Billy Wolf and the Wolf clan a perfect foil for the Luboshutz family?  How are they different and why is that important to Irene and the Luboshutz family?

  14. Lea, her siblings, and her children all benefited from patrons who helped further their careers and lives.  Provide some examples of this patronage and explain how this approach to support is different from much of modern philanthropy.

  15. According to the author, there were differing schools of instrumental playing.  What are some characteristics of the Russian style? Of the German style?  How do these and other examples impact the career development of the main characters?

  16. There are examples of anti-Semitism throughout the book. How does the author’s own experience in the second half of the twentieth century crystalize his understanding of anti-Semitism in earlier generations?

  17. Despite the fact that the Luboshutz-Goldovskys are a loving family, there are many examples of anger between family members.  There is also much second guessing of others’ decisions. What are some examples and when does this become destructive? Why do most people remain loyal to the family?

  18. At the very end of the book, the author claims that “possessions” were not as important to Lea as other things.  What were those other things?  And how do you reconcile the fact that the podstakannik, Lea’s precious violins, and her house in Maine — all possessions — were very important to her?

  19. If you were to make a movie of The Nightingale’s Sonata, who would you cast in the role of Lea?  Of Onissim? Of Rashel? Of Andy? Are there other characters for whom you can imagine a perfect actor or actress?

Four generations of first duaghers, 1936 Katherine Luboshutz, Lea Luboshutz, Irene Goldovsky Wolf, Alexandra Wolf.  Courtesy of the Luboshutz-Goldovssky-Wolf family archive.

Four generations of first daughters 1936
From left to right: Katherine (“Gitel”), Irene, and Lea with Alexandra on her lap

The Nightingale’s Sonata:
The Musical Odyssey of Lea Luboshutz

by Thomas Wolf

$27.95 U.S. | $36.95 Canada
Hardcover: 366 pages
16 pages of B&W photographs
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication date: June 4, 2019
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-64313-067-5

Available where all fine books are sold.