One of the most painful aspects of my mother’s death two years ago was disposing of her Baldwin light oak spinet piano, purchased for me over 50 years ago when my parents saw potential. I was willing to give it away to a good home. I ran ads, contacted local dealers, called every music school, public school, even tried to convince her neighbors they had perfect space in their small apartment when they really didn’t.

Having run out of options, I instructed the pick-up company to destroy it — shatter it into pieces and throw it away. 

Well into The Weight of a Piano (Knopf), author Chris Cander writes of the German Blüthner piano that is the centerpiece of her novel, “The Blüthner carried the memory of every note it had ever created. Every chord, every scale. It held on to the emotion of every prelude and sonata. It had absorbed all the grief and longing and joy and exultation expressed through its action, the impression of every touch and every tear shed at its keyboard.”

Perfect description. Funny, I don’t remember Cander’s presence while I watched the workers decimate mom’s piano – and my heart along with it.

Cander’s Blüthner is a character of its own, the wise observer, sometimes melodic, sometimes silent, that records the soundtrack of two intersecting lives.

For Katya, an eight-year-old living in the Soviet Union in the Sixties, the piano is taken from the apartment of a deceased neighbor through whom Katya first learned the majesty of the piano’s spell. She excels at the instrument and loses herself in the music she creates, often tuning out the struggles of the world around her. Years later, after marrying, she is pushed by her husband to immigrate to America, and the piano is lost in the chaos.

Flash forward to 2012, Clara, a 26-year-old mechanic from Bakersfield, CA, is given a Blüthner piano as a gift from her father, for reasons she doesn’t understand at the time. Clara is not a musical prodigy like Katya, and only at the threat of losing the piano does she fight hard to retain it – out of respect to her father.

Another key character in the story is Greg, known initially only as a photographer who rents the piano from Clara to shoot the instrument in unusual surroundings, Death Valley in particular. Without giving too much away, Greg acts as an essential binding agent between Clara and Katya.

As the storylines between Clara and Katya intersect, more revelations surface about the piano, the present and the past.

Amazingly, Cander is not a pianist herself. She says she got the idea for the book when she was invited to speak at a book club’s discussion of her first novel, 11 Stories.  “Afterward I overheard one of the readers mention that she’d finally found a meaningful home for the piano her father had given her when she was a little girl. She said she’d never learned to play, but felt terribly guilty about getting rid of it. I was immediately invested in that idea—the letting go of a treasured object—and asked her if I could borrow it. She said yes, and a book idea was born.”

A former firefighter, competitive bodybuilder, current holder of a 3rd dan in taekwondo, and a women’s self-defense instructor, Cander related first to the character of Clara: “I felt Clara before I saw her in my imagination; her orphanhood, her solitude, her struggle to create and maintain meaningful attachments to objects and people all came through viscerally.

But I also felt strongly that she was a badass, able to take care of herself and suffering no fools in her life…..Even as she evolved in my mind, I still couldn’t picture her, so I sat down one afternoon with the intention of conjuring her image. My daughter walked into my office and interrupted my meditation, and when I looked up, I saw Clara.”

On the other hand, Cander says, “Katya felt altogether different from the beginning: soulful, physically delicate, intellectual – also as she got older, depressed, forlorn and increasingly detached from reality. Her strength comes through differently from Clara’s, but they both are capable of enduring and transcending pain, loss, and fear, yet still remaining vulnerable to love in the process.”

One of the most incredible passages in this beautifully written book is the very opening, in which the author provides a detailed description of the making of the Bltühner piano, all the way from Julius Blüthner himself wandering the forests of Romania in search of the perfect tree. “One man alone knew how to choose them,” she writes.

To research the segment, she came in contact with a Blüthner dealer in Los Angeles, the Blüthner factory in Leipzig, Germany, a local piano guild meeting and interviewed several piano technicians. She befriended one in the U.K., where Blüthners are more common. “He sent me photos of the inside of an upright he came across that nearly matched mine in the novel. I spoke to four separate piano moving companies. I watched a piano be­ing tuned. Because I knew so little to start with, I needed so much help to write about even the smallest details authentically.”

The Weight of a Piano is a touching story of survival – for two families, two girls, and an instrument. The weight of a piano is felt throughout the novel, at every turn, both figuratively and literally.

The Weight of a Piano will be available to purchase Jan. 22nd, 2019.

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Chris Cander graduated from the Honors College at the University of Houston, in the city where she was raised and still liv

es, with her husband, daughter, and son. For seven years she has been a writer-in-residence for Writers in the Schools there. She serves on the Inprint advisory board and stewards several Little Free Libraries in her community. Her first novel,11 Stories, won the Independent Publisher Gold Medal for Popular Fiction, and her most recent, Whisper Hollow, was long-listed for the Great Santini Fiction Prize by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. She is also the author of The Word Burglar, which won the 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award (silver).