Erryn reviews ‘A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat’ by Roe Horvat. This book was released by the author on December 15, 2017, and is 205 pgs long. The audiobook version of this story was narrated by Vance Bastian and produced by Beaten Track Publishing. It was released on June 12, 2018, and is 6 hrs and 52 mins long.
Why I read this book: I was fascinated by the synopsis and love reading about counties beyond North America.
Simon had always expected love to feel different than this. Whether it was his Catholic upbringing or the poetry he’d read, Simon had thought that true love would be uplifting, fulfilling, that it would give a meaning to his loitering, and add joy to his leisure. But not this kind of love. This love was a flesh-eating monster, sharp-clawed and evil-eyed, ravishing his mind with medieval cruelty.
Dr. Simon Mráz is a respected specialist and lecturer at the Charles University in Prague. He is a serious man, responsible. His students call him “The Cruel Doctor Frost” not because he’s unkind, but because of his unwavering, ice-cold composure. As a psychiatrist, he values sanity. And sanity can be found in work, restraint, and self-control.
Not many know of that one time in the past when “The Cruel Doctor Frost” lost his cool. His ill-advised, secret affair with a student left Simon deeply wounded. Since that day, every minute of Simon’s life has been a struggle to remain sane and functioning. He’s managed so far. As long as he is needed, and as long as his work makes a difference, Simon can scrape together enough strength to get up in the morning and run off the nightmares. But when his friends begin drifting away, his beloved protégé becomes independent, and the man who bereaved Simon of his precious sanity might return…. Simon’s mind and body stop responding to his impressive willpower.
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Are you thinking the same thing I am?
Occasionally I try an audiobook that is one I might not have chosen without a nudge. Roe Horvat’s ‘A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat’ is one of those books. I would have missed out. This audio is a gem that I think everyone should listen to.
Now, this is not a traditional romance and I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say I was thrilled with the ending. Very satisfied.
Some listeners might not like this book because it is not told linearly. Don’t worry, though. The dates are clearly announced and I never struggled with where I was in the timeline. This structure was also necessary because flashbacks were the best way to tell this story.
I needed to understand the depth of Simon’s (aka Dr. Frost) devastation when his young lover Matej left. By mixing the present Simon is living with the flashbacks of his life with Matej, I was able to get a really good picture of the true Simon. The man is a nurturer with a kind heart and generous spirit. But it’s a side he only shares with his closest friends and Matej’s sister, Marta. To the rest of the world, he is the renowned psychiatrist who teaches at a medical school.
Which is another thing I was happy about. There are not as many gay romances set in ordinary locations but which are also foreign to North America and Australian romance readers. Prague is set in Czech Republic which is part of the former Czechoslovakia. That country was part of the Eastern European countries that were under Soviet Union control pretty much up until the end of the cold war. I know little of this country, especially in today’s political climate. I can only guess how it was under Communist oppression, but I thought things were better now that the populous were liberated and now living under a different government.
Generally, I was wrong with this understanding. There is still poverty, of course, but even professionals are not paid nearly as well as their counterparts in Western Europe. Many stay, however, because of love of country and for their friends, family, and fellow citizens.
A small amount of the book takes place in Germany and the difference was stark also, the Czech Republic, as I understand, does not have universal healthcare. Coming from a country where the concept is sacrosanct, I am acutely aware of the struggles of living without it. I hear about my American friends who can hardly afford the premiums, for private insurance and then pay huge deductibles. I despair for people who have to choose between going to the doctor and paying rent. Is Canada perfect? Of course not. But my taxes aren’t that much higher and I and everyone around me has access.
But I digress. Roe immersed me in Slovak culture and I felt I was learning rather than being lectured to. For that alone, this book is worth the read.
I empathized with Simon. His parents still don’t accept his homosexuality, insisting if he just married a nice girl like Marta, he could stop being gay.
First, Simon didn’t choose to be gay. Second, his affair with the younger Matej was elicit enough as the man was Simon’s student. Marta, being Matej’s younger sister by seven years, is about a decade and a half younger than Simon. He has been Marta’s guardian of sorts since Matej went away and even if he wasn’t gay, he would never break the bonds of friendship. He is having enough of a difficult time watching Marta grow up and spread her wings. They clung to each other after Matej left, but even Marta knows it is time for her to leave the nest. Simon isn’t truly ready, though.
But Simon also needs to move on. He’s even dating, but when one of his best friends since childhood announces a wonderful event, Simon almost ruins the entire event with his negativity. He likes routine and all these changes are messing with his head.
The secondary characters make this book far more interesting and I want to give a particular nod to Mike, the Wandering Australian, who has settled in Prague. One of his jobs is teaching English to business professionals and when he tries to teach him that the ‘majority cannot rule on the rights of the minorities’, I am reminded that although Canada has had same-sex marriage for more than a dozen years, the majority of countries around the world do not. This is changing, but changing the minds of staunch conservatives and religious followers is an uphill battle. Mike, though, is undaunted.
He is also a friend to Marta, there to support and help her when she makes a difficult decision and needs assistance. She knows she can’t go to Simon and, in fact, needs someone who never knew her brother. She (more or less) knows why Matej went away and now she wants to understand the rest. She believes she has prepared herself for the worst.
The point-of-view in this book shifts between several main characters, but most of the story is carried by Simon and appropriately so. (That being said, there is a pivotal scene and although I understand the choice of POV at that moment, I was still frustrated. I wanted to be inside the head of one of the characters for that scene, but choosing would have been tough, so choosing an outside character works) Anyway, it was Simon who lived the joys of his relationship with Matej and he who has mourned the loss of the man. When then were together – both emotionally and physically – Simon thought ‘this is how it’s supposed to feel. This is why people do it.” It might be a thought that occurs during sex, but it is also a profound moment when Simon recognizes he might be getting a hint of what love truly is.
Then Matej reaches for Simon’s comfort during a moment of darkness in his life, willing to make himself emotionally vulnerable. Yet a short time later, Matej was gone. I was devastated when he left. I had known it was coming, of course, but that didn’t make it any easier.
When Simon said that life on earth was just a cycle of suffering, I despaired for him. But, as I’ve said, I was very satisfied at the end. Simon and Matej spend very little time on the page together, but it was so clear the profound impact Matej had on Simon.
And vice versa?
Finally, I want to address Vance Bastian as narrator. This was not an easy book. There were Czech words as well as some German. Having studied the language, I was able to appreciate Vance’s handling of it. I also felt he added to the story. He brought all the character to life, helping me love them. He wasn’t obtrusive, either – more like a natural extension of Roe’s story.
Please please please consider reading this book. It moved me yet wasn’t depressing. I empathized with Simon and was able to rejoice in the resolution for him and that end of the book. There was a touch of mystery and many great secondary characters. It was a nice long book and while it was an easy and enjoyable read, I wanted it to go on.
I hope there will be more audios of books written by Mr. Horvat and narrated by Vance Bastian.
10/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 5/5 Stars
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Queer fiction author Roe Horvat was born in the post-communist wasteland of former Czechoslovakia. Equipped with a dark sense of sarcasm, Roe traveled Europe and finally settled in Sweden. They love Jane Austen, Douglas Adams, and daiquiri, with equal passion. When not hiding in the studio doing graphics, Roe can be found trolling cafés in Gothenburg, writing, and people-watching.