Free Press, Sep 6 2011, $24.00
In 1987, residents of Sofia, Bulgaria know first hand the oppression of the ruling elitist Communist Party. All they have to do is look out their windows at the sky, which is gray in the morning, grayer in the afternoon and pitch black with a slight ruby red at night; the sun never shines behind the Iron Curtain except for those inside the party.
Teenager Konstantin is a gifted pianist who attends the Sofia's Music School for the Gifted where he stays most of his time playing and drilling as if he was training for war, which to the Columnists, is exactly how they perceive the talented. Although he spends hours every day doing repetitive drills Konstanine learns one lesson that the overarching rule is that talent is superseded by those who parrot the party. Although stifled, the fifteen year old prodigy rebels when he can through western vices like drinking, smoking, and sexing, but is also obsessed with being the best as he finds a mental haven from his dumbing down teachers in the classics.
In some ways a coming of age tale, Wunderkind is a super look at oppressive Bulgaria in stark contrast to the lyrical passages lovingly expressed by Konstantin when he performs the works of the musical greats like Debussy and Bach. The story line focuses on one critical year in the life of the conflicted protagonist as he trains for a competition he scorns but is his ticket to the free world. Readers will appreciate this cerebral glimpse at late Cold War Bulgaria as the children with talent are “indoctrinated” soldiers in the battle with the West.