Martha Anne Toll
Regal House Publishing 2022
Martha Anne Toll’s debut novel, “Three Muses,” is a choreographed ballet narrative about the life journey of two traumatized people who discover emotional healing when they fall in love. But can it endure?
The story begins in 1944 during the Jewish holocaust when Janko Stein is separated from his mother and brother at a concentration camp. He survives because he could sing, and the camp kommandant and his soldiers wanted entertainment.
A year later, when he is 16, and rescued from inside his own lockup, he confronts the horrors of the concentration camp where his mother and brother were gassed.
Meanwhile, in New York City, during this same period in time, Katherine Sillman’s mother is killed in a traffic accident. Her father and aunt help her through her grief by giving her dancing lessons.
… a unique reader experience.
Move forward to 1963, Janko and Kathaleen meet by chance. Katherine is the prima ballerina in the New York State Ballet performing the Three Muses (Song, Discipline, Memory) in Paris. Her choreographer, Boris Yanakov, has changed her name to Katya Symanova. Janko’s name likewise was changed, to John Curtin. He was adopted by an American family who lost a son in Sicily. Curtin is now in medical school, and attending a psychiatry conference in Paris when he is offered a free ballet ticket.
Curtin, who continues to be plagued with guilt over the death of his mother and brother, is overtaken with emotion when he sees Symanova’s performance: It was a “psychological caprice, a revelation of dreamscape.”
Back in New York, Curtin attends most of her performances, always waiting at the backstage door with flowers. Then, when Symanova’s father is hospitalized where Curtin practices medicine, the pair discover a binding magnetism in which they find comfort from their mental suffering and learn to trust and love again.
But Symanova is torn between her love for John and her art. She was 14 when Yanakov became her teacher, then collaborated on performances and later they became lovers. Symanova who was under Yanakov’s control for so long couldn’t envision her ability to perform without him.
Author Toll has blended her experiences, love for ballet, and the horrors of the Holocaust, which has “loomed large” in her secular Jewish family, into an evocative story. It adds up to a unique reader experience.
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