From the very first page of Elaine Kozak’s RHAPSODY IN A MINOR MODE, Niels Larsen’s life is spun sideways when a devastating family secret about his parentage is revealed. It’s somewhat difficult to piece together the immediate and jarring fallout when Niels still feels like a stranger at this point, but the nature of this secret is horrifying despite that. As his life story unfolds, Niels’ is rightfully unmoored, adrift in indecision and uncertainty, despairing in his grief over matters of his paternity. What follows is his precarious, sometimes harrowing journey of self discovery, reclaiming himself in the face of a carefully constructed web of protective lies.
Uprooting himself from the privileged comforts of his sprawling, wealthy family in Vancouver, Niels embarks on an adventure that takes him from a sleepy coastal town in Halifax, to the cramped confines of a container ship, and finally to the vibrant, musical streets of Seville, Spain. The novel covers many years of his life, from the angry, untethered college student who burns bridges in a desperate escape, to the matured adult in his early thirties who has finally discovered his purpose and learned who he really is.
While the fast pacing sometimes makes the flow from one scene to the next a little jarring—weeks, years, and months can jump around in a sentence or two—Niels’ character arc is especially powerful. His gradual progression into finding his sense of self and how he’s influenced by and affects those around him is captivating, moving. And even, at certain surprising turns, tear-jerking. It’s also a surprise to acknowledge that RHAPSODY IN A MINOR MODE is one of the rare novels that actually deals with the severity of the COVID pandemic and its lasting effects. The pandemic ripples through the plot in unexpected ways, further highlighting Niels’ family’s sometimes complicated relationships, as well as those with his friends. It’s certainly refreshing to see this perspective handled with such care and compassion.
Fatherhood and flamenco music entwine at the heart of Niels’ story. “A man has many fathers,” his mentor and seasoned flamenco guitarist Tiago tells him some time after they’ve developed a familial connection with each other. Tiago proves to be a wizened expert, a prickly man who’s down on his luck but unbelievably skilled, his fiery guitar work igniting something within Niels. Both themes—music and the many complicated aspects of fatherhood—are richly rendered with an extreme reverence to the history of the characters and the places they inhabit. It’s complicated and messy but profoundly beautiful, profoundly human, flaws and all. The flamenco music tells stories in itself, another way for Niels to cope with his losses and find a new direction in his life. In another serendipitous twist, Niels’ complex, emotional relationship with fatherhood comes full circle to close his journey—a journey where Tiago’s gift of flamenco music always seems to guide him at all the right moments.
A touching, heartfelt character study, Elaine Kozak’s RHAPSODY IN A MINOR MODE resonates with family drama, vibrant characters, and uptempo melodies.
~Jessica Thomas for IndieReader