Magazine article The Spectator

'Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung', by Min Kym - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung', by Min Kym - Review

Article excerpt

Min Kym is a violinist, but if you Google her name you won't find sound-clips or concert reviews, touring schedules or YouTube videos. What you'll get are news reports. Because one evening in 2010, when Kym was waiting for a train at Euston Station, her 300-year-old Stradivarius violin was stolen. Almost three years later it was recovered, and an 'elated' Kym was back in the papers, but the happy ending was more editorial convenience than truth. Now Kym herself has written a memoir in an attempt to explain what she really lost that day, and the impossibility of ever truly recovering it.

Gone is an awkward book. The style shouts thriller -- a relentless drumbeat of staccato sentences and long-trailed expectation -- but the content is the discursive, drifting stuff of memoir. Being a child prodigy is a life that straddles genres, flirting with technical manual, self-help book and YA fiction on its journey to adult autobiography, but it doesn't make for the easiest of reads, especially in first-time hands. Kym's violin, as she repeatedly tells us, is her voice, but there's a sense here of the author trying on another for size, one that -- as yet -- can't manage much more than a whisper.

'A Life Unstrung': the subtitle contains a potent image, but one that, like so much else in this memoir, doesn't really belong to its author. In shaping the book's central idea, an elision between player and instrument, woman and object, she borrows cultural rhetoric that comes ready-loaded. When we read that 'The violin was part of me and I part of the violin', we think of Man Ray's 'Le Violon d'Ingres' -- the woman with a violin's F holes in her back, the instrument on which the photographer plays his visual music; or of Magritte's 'La Decouverte' -- her flesh transforming into wood under the artist's gaze; or even perhaps of the ghastly cover art for R. Kelly's Black Panties album, in which the singer 'plays' a naked woman with a cello bow. We struggle to see clearly through to the timid pencil strokes of Kym's own self-portrait.

Because while this is a book about music, about the life of a child prodigy, a violin found and lost, it's as much a book about being a woman. The two narratives are indivisible. Again and again as Kym tells her story, her prodigious talent becomes a vehicle for men to express themselves: something for teachers, dealers, conductors, fathers and lovers to appropriate and claim as their own. 'She is a little diamond, and I want to be the one to polish her,' says her professor -- the first of many to see himself reflected back in her brilliance. …

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