Motherless Child: A Book Review

When Elizabeth Guaragna walks into a music agency and applies for a job, she’s stormed what she thinks is an enemy encampment. She accepts a position working closely for a man she’s been raised to despise, famed music impresario Alfred Rossiter, all the while barely understanding herself, her motives, or the reasons why she lies about her name and background. All Elizabeth knows is she’s angry with and curious about the man she believes ruined her family’s happiness by seducing her mother.

So begins Marianne Langner Zeitlin’s third novel, Motherless Child, set in New York City and Toronto in the late 1970's. Zeitlin drew on her personal experience working at a music management firm to tell Elizabeth’s story. As the wife of acclaimed violinist Zvi Zeitlin, the author lived with the tensions, joys, and artistic triumphs that move classical musicians to sacrifice much for arts’ sake.  (Marianne dedicated the book to her husband before he died this past spring, and she says now it’s become a kind of memorial to him.)

As Elizabeth Guaragna becomes the trusted assistant of a powerful impresario, her misgivings about the situation grow. Motherless Child offers readers a glimpse of the harsh realities facing aspiring musicians if they choose to pursue careers as performers;  they’re ranked, rated, criticized, and sometimes even muscled out of the concert circuit by careless or vindictive managers. Yet they submit to a kind of joyful enslavement which musicians and non-musicians will understand in this well-crafted novel.

I liked this book. Zeitlin brings Rossiter and Elizabeth to life with the nuance, heart, and depth of a Chopin etude.  She introduces an attractive writer who helps Elizabeth realize that the truth about her family is complicated and wonderfully liberating.  This is an interesting story that will keep you turning the pages.