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reivew of 'Gone' by Min Kym, book about stolen Strad


John_London
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A quick review of 'Gone', the book by Min Kym, sometimes written Min-Jin Kym, Korean woman who had a Strad stolen at Pret a Manger in Euston. Though not a great book (and one reviewer compared it unfavourably with Paul Robertson's Soundscapes, a wonderful recent violinists' book) it might interest some here for the way it presents the psychology of someone who falls in love with one instrument. There are some details about the way the trade worked in this case, too. There are many, many reviews online and Ms Kym seems as well known as an author, or more so, as she was at the height of her career as a soloist.

 

The book projects in a very personal voice the story of a child prodigy who had a successful career as a violin soloist and was fairly mixed up in various ways. She seems to attribute the problems partly to her Korean up-bringing, and largely to the burden of talent, maybe fairly, though plenty of people without talent have problems equally great. The theme of the book, which is the experience of having a valuable violin stolen in a station cafe, is unpromising: and yet any book which keeps me turning the pages until it is finished earns a place in the top 10% of books I pick up; and if the material is limited, the author deserves praise for keeping the book relatively short. On that basis I can recommend reading it.

 

The summary is that successful violinist finds a Strad she regards as a soulmate, has it nicked in a station cafe, and is completely emotionally destroyed; when it is found, she cannot afford to return the insurance money to recover it. She feels the loss of the violin, perhaps unfairly, was partly due to pressure from a boyfriend to behave in ways she did not want to. She also feels her inability to keep it once the police had recovered it was largely due to the ease with which she was swayed into what seemed in retrospect bad business decisions, in particular by Tarisio where the ex-boyfriend, who was present when the instrument was stolen, worked.

 

The latter part of the book shines an (admittedly coloured) light on the London violin trade, while earlier parts of the book touch on the world of professional musicians. Some of the characters come out of the story well, and some do not. Advisors who were helpful included Gerald Drucker, described as a violinist who took up bass because his hands were too big, Ian Brown, and in a smaller way Gordon Back. Key teachers were Andrievsky, Zhislin, and Ricci--for the last of these she does not have a bad word. The police come out of the story very well: when they find a crime they want to investigate--and these days they UK police prefer to ignore the many crimes which in their own discretion they assess as both minor and unlikely to generate revenue--they can be remarkably effective.

 

The middle part shines a light on a soloist with a very strong relationship with one violin. It was a long model Strad (1696), a little shorter than most, in relatively poor condition, temperamental, but able to impress for its superior sound when compared with the Strads in the Cremona museum. It is one of those stories of love at first sight, and she unhesitatingly picked it over a golden period Strad when shown the two by Charles Beare. She says that the maintenance cost on such an instrument is around £5000 per year, and I do not think she is including insurance, so that no doubt helps it sound well. Her obsessively close identification with a single instrument is extraordinary. She seems to have been uninterested in any possible replacement, even by a violin which would generally be considered better or more valuable than the one she lost. She did not gel with the Castelbarco Strad (where only the back is thought to be by Stradivari), and at the end of the book she seems to like her new violin labeled brothers Amati, possibly made by Nicolo when he  was young, which is in good condition. The author absolutely buys into the idea that Strads and a few other old Italian violins are very special and head and shoulders above anything else, particularly for their ability to fill a hall. For most of the book you get the impression that her utter devotion to this violin, which she writes about as if it were a sentient being, is only possible because it carries the Stradivari magic, although when she writes about violin theft generally she recognizes that people may feel equally strongly about almost any violin and its loss.

 

Stradivari violins seem particularly capable of casting such a spell over their owners, for whatever reasons. She feels the violin is calling to her and that it should be called the ex-Kym, and it is on Tarisio's website. Since she feels the violin is calling to her it is understandable she is uncharitable about the present owner (do all violinists who were child prodigies look down on those where were not?). And he may be forgiven for, according to her, calling it the 'Euston Strad,' though if it is the leader's 1696 Strad in the eponymous 'Stradivarius Piano Trio' (not to be confused with the Trio Stradivari), naming the trio after the violin's maker, rather than the maker of the cello for example, does seem likely to rub salt into the wound. If my guess is right (and I have no inside information) it seems the new keeper of the instrument loves--or to use a more cynical term--fetishises the Strad as much as she did, and it may be the 1696 Strad of which there are numerous shots interspersed with this video. I call it the 'Sandwich Strad,' because of its recent adventure in a Bulgarian gypsy camp sandwiched between two fine violinists, though my research has not revealed what flavour of sandwich the earlier owner was eating when the violin was stolen. That small attempt at humour does not detract from the personal pain involved in this sorry story for Ms Kym and for other parties in the saga, a situation greatly exacerbated by the daft prices which Strads now fetch. One moral emerges from the story which is directly contrary to Ms Kym's own implied view: violins like that belong in a museum.

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Ah! I remember hearing that story (of the circumstances of the theft) and it definitely seems like she shouldn't blame her boyfriend. Even if he was trying to get his hands in on the deal somehow, or screw her over somehow, that is also her fault. Keeping the instrument safe was her job. Apparently she can't fob off the insurance company with her story, so she wants to prove it to readers. Other than the abnormal psychology aspect of her 'in hindsight' devotion to the instrument, which borders on the obscene, it all sounds almost boring.

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19 minutes ago, JacksonMaberry said:

Maestronet: come for the arguments, stay for the characteristic lack of empathy. 

Where is the argument? I am of the same opinion. So far, we all seem to be in agreement.

Is the only valid opinion one that is "nice" or favourable?

Fake empathy isn't useful.

Plus, when an individual markets a product, in this instance - a book, to make money, they invite feedback. 

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Rue, you have been around long enough to understand what I said. Maybe not here (yet) in this thread, but Maestronet is a platform for arguments in general, some more civil than others. 

I'm not sure what I've done to upset you, but you have seemed very ready of late to come after me regardless of what I say. Feel free to bring grievances to me directly, you'll find I'm pretty reasonable and willing to admit fault if it is warranted. 

Fake empathy isn't useful, which is why you don't see me advocating for it. And of course there is plenty of room for critical opinion! I'm exasperated that you insist on making my argument for me when you seem to understand me so little. 

My point here is that despite agreeing that she bears fault for the loss of her instrument, I think it's well worth remembering that she's still a human person and deserves to be treated with a modicum of respect. Call me old fashioned, I was raised to hold my tongue rather than speak unkindly even about them that might deserve it. 

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I am sorry you feel that I was targeting you.  That was never even in my mind. I was merely - I thought - engaging in conversation. I enjoy debate and contemplating differing opinions.

However, since I certainly don't want to distress anyone or put them on the defense - I will stop offering up an opinion if I think it may be an issue.

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5 minutes ago, Rue said:

I am sorry you feel that I was targeting you.  That was never even in my mind. I was merely - I thought - engaging in conversation. I enjoy debate and contemplating differing opinions.

However, since I certainly don't want to distress anyone or put them on the defense - I will stop offering up an opinion if I think it may be an issue.

I am, of course, relieved. While the tone of your apology, especially as framed by your closing sentence, could be read as somewhat insincere, I give you the benefit of the doubt. It is so difficult, after all, to accurately infer tone from the written word. 

I have no desire to censor anyone on this, a public forum. Post as you wish, and I shall do likewise. 

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I have to agree with Jackson.  I thought the OP gave a good and fair review of the book, as he did give both sides of the argument. In any relationship, it is common to give of oneself in ways one wouldn't for a stranger.  And the implied criticism of Tarisio is consonant with some scuttlebutt I have heard, sotto voce. 

"Maestronet: come for the arguments, stay for the characteristic lack of empathy. "  Prescient, Mr Mayberry. :o

A happier ending would have been: violin nabbed by thief, (nicked for our swan friends, LOL), boyfriend immediately notices and runs after thief, tackling him and pinning him whilst the crowd beats up the neer-do-well until the cops arrive...

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1 hour ago, l33tplaya said:

A happier ending would have been: violin nabbed by thief, (nicked for our swan friends, LOL), boyfriend immediately notices and runs after thief, tackling him and pinning him whilst the crowd beats up the neer-do-well until the cops arrive...

End of the book, but only the beginning for an NCIS episode.

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If I made the book sound boring, it is because I don't want to be thought to have oversold it, in case anyone relies on my review to spend time on it. As I say, it is unpromising material, to be fair she admits everything was her fault, and what I will say is that the book is not as dull as one might expect. Often with books by writers not at the highest professional level, they have some interesting material and they get it down on paper in the first half. The section on converting a child prodigy into a succesful soloist is perhaps the best part of the book, and there are surprisingly few such accounts.

In case anyone missed it, another account of the experience of a child prodigy who came to hate the violin appeared in the New York Times recently https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/nyregion/redemption-of-a-lost-prodigy.html . Mr. Chandler had a similar reaction to and criticism of Galamian's teaching as Erick Friedman made publicly.

If you are only going to read one recent violin memoir, Paul Robertson's Soundscapes is the one to get, though it is entirely about music and musicians, not instruments.

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Thank-you John_London. A very nice introduction to the affair and the book. Having a child that was not quite a prodigy but rather a young artist (Interlochen HS, IU fine arts scholarship)  but now has no use for her cello, I find this aspect most intriguing. 

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Thanks for the review John,, I enjoy your style,,,

Here is a retake om the chandler article,,, a different side,

https://mleddy.blogspot.com/2018/03/who-is-saul-chandler.html

A preview of "Gone" can be read here.

https://www.amazon.com/Gone-Girl-Violin-Life-Unstrung/dp/0451496078/ref=sr_1_14?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1525022023&sr=1-14&keywords=gone#reader_0451496078

Thanks

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It's intriguing how these narratives (Kym's and the one in the Times about the "lost prodigy") seem to fall in well-travelled cliche grooves. 

In Kym's case: I and my precious Italian are ONE, and I can't live without it. (It helps if you're female.)

The story about the guy who changed his name (conveniently in a more Anglo-sounding type) seems to be a case of a reporter choosing style over substance. The reporter wanted to write a wow story in the style of Joseph Mitchell about a loner turning his back on society. It has been pointed out that there is not a trace of this prodigy violinist in Carnegie and Curtis records; he was a prodigy and a star-to-be in his own memory. It would have helped if the reporter had any familiarity with bowed instruments; he would have realized that a violin left in its case for fifty years is not immediately fit to play. It's the material sign the lost prodigy is not being entirely guileless.

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3 hours ago, Bill Merkel said:

There are very healthy ways to appreciate classical music but it seems to attract or create unhealthy people too.  

And the public wants child prodigies and mythic Strads. Kym was a talented Korean girl whose fate it was to offer the public both, before and after the violin was stolen. Without having experienced celebrity, I can imagine it would take a lot of maturity to play that role and stay relatively heathly and happy.

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I overstated it a bit by saying the book sounds boring. It doesn't. I appreciate the review. But her feelings about the violin as her soulmate and that it should be the ex-Kym rather than the Euston and all that just sounds totally unreadable. Why is that a lack of empathy? I'm actually a very empathetic person but I have my limits.  Yes, she is a person with feelings and etc., But there are billions of those. There's few Stradivaris, and her idiocy caused an opportunity for the theft of one. What she did was like leaving a briefcase on the floor that was full of millions of dollars of cash.

 I didn't get from the earlier review that she owned up to her mistakes. That helps, but there's still the general theme of the book. So forgive me if the idea of willingly slogging through 12,000 words of her boo-hooing about the terrible burden of her talent and privileged life and how she tickles herself when she thinks about the violin she used to own...just, no thanks. Even if it's much more psychologically interesting than that, it still sounds like a not very enjoyable and very unsavory read. I'm sure many of the most interesting bits are her account of what occurred after the instrument was found. I have no clue how the violin trade functions at that high level. She paid under £500,000 for it originally, and I guess it's sad that she couldn't get it back. I assume she bought her Amati with the insurance money. Someone definitely profited from her error, and that is the bit I would find interesting.

I'm sorry if this viewpoint continues to be somehow offensive. 

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3 hours ago, not telling said:

...I appreciate the review. But her feelings about the violin as her soulmate and that it should be the ex-Kym rather than the Euston and all that just sounds totally unreadable....

That was rather my view, when I picked up the book in a small local library with a tiny selection of books, just to see. It was surprising it turned out to be, for me, although not a great book, still a compelling read. It is not always the quality of material which makes the best product!

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1 hour ago, John_London said:

That was rather my view, when I picked up the book in a small local library with a tiny selection of books, just to see. It was surprising it turned out to be, for me, although not a great book, still a compelling read. It is not always the quality of material which makes the best product!

You mean it's sort of like a good Markie?  :huh::lol:

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  • 1 month later...

I finally bought the book and recently finished reading it.  It was interesting to see her progression of instrument selections when she was young.  Dealers knew she was a prodigy and provided her with valuable old Italian violins.  That's all she ever played.  She never mentioned trying anything newly made and very affordable. 

The dealers controlled her. Their sales commission on a famous old Italian violin is much much more for them than on a modern one.

I felt sorry for her all her pain.  I should just give her one of my violins so she can finally forget about her lost Strad and forget about needing lots of money to find true love.

Is she still single?

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1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

 It was interesting to see her progression of instrument selections when she was young.  Dealers knew she was a prodigy and provided her with valuable old Italian violins.  That's all she ever played.  She never mentioned trying anything newly made and very affordable. 

The dealers controlled her. Their sales commission on a famous old Italian violin is much much more for them than on a modern one.

Dear heavens!!  The poor, deprived child, to be forced to live in ignorance like that!  Let's pass the hat and send her a Skylark. :ph34r::lol:

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