Book Review: Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym
Of stolen childhoods and Stradivarius violins
The underbelly of New Delhi, the court of Henry VIII, and the world of Salzburg concert halls are strikingly different—though equally vibrant—backdrops. I’ve relished and reviewed the manic and entirely fictional White Tiger, the maudlin historical novel Wolf Hall, and now it’s time for Gone, a musician’s melancholic yet uplifting memoir.
In weft and heft, these complex tapestries are unalike, and yet they’re all skillfully woven tales of self-determination. I suppose that’s the thread that ties them together.
In many ways, Gone is the opposite of the rise to power chronicled in the other two books, being the story of a child prodigy, by nature someone who is preeminent* preternaturally early. However, it, too, is a story of metamorphosis, one achieved by breaking free of expectations, constraints, and the millstone of talent.
“Talent is a burden you can’t throw off. It can drink or drug you to death. It can depress you into suicide. But you can’t have the talent surgically removed, the weight of it.”
I must admit, I had preconceived notions of child prodigies and their supposed grasping stage parents. However, young Min Kym’s transformation into breadwinner isn’t so much exploitation as a product of shaping the family’s life around the towering talents of its youngest member—the private tutors, the schools abroad. Everyone else’s career necessarily takes a backseat, which is not to say it doesn’t also take its toll on its blessed and burdened beneficiary.
“What is a child prodigy? Here’s another stab at it. It’s a means to another’s end. Oh, they wish you well, wish the very best for you, but there is a price to pay, and the price is you.”
The memoir explores both the high costs of being a performer from a tender age and the tragedy which befalls Kym as a young woman. Her Stradivarius violin, the conduit for her talent and the whetstone upon which she sharpened her skill as a mature musician, is precious, irreplaceable—and stolen from her. Kym is robbed of her signature ‘gloriously silky voice’ on the cusp of her first world tour.
Nevertheless, every cloud has a silver lining, and Kym slowly recovers the joys of simply playing by joining a chamber orchestra and performing at local festivals with a replacement violin. “No name, just a woman with a violin”, as she puts it.
“Now I could play with no expectations, lift a violin with nothing in front of me, precious little behind, just a violin and a cello and a piano […] and the flash of friendship on the others’ faces.”
Gone shows us that we are more resilient in the face of loss—even the loss of our own identity—than we think. It’s a tale of love, obsession, and learning to temper the demands of talent. It’s a lesson in beginning anew after the world has fallen away beneath you, complete with the comforting reassurance that you’ll find yourself on surer footing as a result.
Kym’s memoir explores another sort of loss apart from that of childhood or the £1.2m 300-year-old violin, that of all violins crafted during Europe’s Little Ice Age by the old masters, the likes of Stradivari, Guarneri, Guadagnini, and Bergonzi. Snatched from the hands of musicians and stowed in the safes of collectors, these grand violins have had their voices forever silenced. (God, I pity the violins.)
As for whether Kym’s violin was ever recovered, you’ll have to read the book (while listening to the companion album, naturally) to find out.
*At first, I had ‘who has peaked’, but that would be doing all former child prodigies, whose music is not only sweet like wine but ages like it, a disservice
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