Foreword Reviews

Three Muses

Memory and traumas interfere with romantic love in Martha Anne Toll’s historical novel Three Muses.

John, an American psychoanalyst, is in Paris when he is handed a ticket to see a performance of Boris Yanakov’s masterpiece Three Muses, put on by the New York State Ballet. Though he’s skeptical about attending, John’s life is changed by the ballet after prima ballerina (and Yanakov’s muse) Katya takes the stage. Enamored, he hands her a bouquet of white roses after the performance.

What follows is an intense romance. John and Katya’s attraction surprises them both, in part because their backgrounds are so different: he is a Holocaust survivor with a new name; she is a girl from Queens, New York, who is performing under a Russian moniker. In the background looms Yanakov, Katya’s much-older mentor, teacher, and lover. He’s a constant presence.

Placing focus on John’s powerful memories and Katya’s understandings of the beauty and demands of ballet as a form of expression, the prose is sparse and brisk. Some cultural and historical details blur in the process, including surrounding John’s childhood and his experiences of the Holocaust. The ghetto where John and his family stayed, and the camp where they ended up, are nameless and nondescript; he refers to his maternal grandparents as Polish.

What begins like a conventional love story takes an unexpected turn: domination that’s mistaken for love interferes with Katya’s attempt at breaking free. Her relationship with her mentor is complicated, toxic, and predatory; it started when Katya was a girl. Her romance with John represents the opportunity for a new life, but she wrestles with her love for ballet and her relationship with Yanakov, too. The couple’s relationship may be cut short in Three Muses, a historical novel that’s influenced by traumas.

Reviewed by Erika Harlitz Kern

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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