Three Muses

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Three Muses is a love story that enthralls; a tale of Holocaust survival venturing through memory, trauma, and identity, while raising the curtain on the unforgiving discipline of ballet. Pulitzer-prize winner Paul Harding, calls Three Muses a “meditation on history, music, the catastrophic inheritances of the Holocaust, and the so common, painful hiddenness of hope itself… [it] captivates the reader from the first page to the last.” In post-WWII New York, John Curtin suffers lasting damage from having been forced to sing for the concentration camp kommandant who murdered his family. John trains to be a psychiatrist, struggling to wrest his life from his terror of music and his past. Katya Symanova climbs the arduous path to Prima Ballerina of the New York State Ballet, becoming enmeshed in an abusive relationship with her choreographer, who makes Katya a star but controls her life. When John receives a ticket to attend a ballet featuring Katya Symanova, a spell is cast. As John and Katya follow circuitous paths to one another, fear and promise rise in equal measure. Three muses—Song, Discipline, and Memory—weave their way through love and loss, heartbreak and triumph to leave readers of this prize-winning debut breathless.

Praise for Three Muses

“Martha Anne Toll’s three muses are those of song, discipline, and memory. In this beautiful, dark novel, she has choreographed the mysterious ways these forces push and pull and shape the lives of her characters – lives of terrible loss and precious if dismaying survival – through their dissonances, harmonies, deprivations and recoveries. A meditation on history, music, the catastrophic inheritances of the Holocaust, and the so common, painful hiddenness of hope itself, Three Muses captivates the reader from the first page to the last.”

-Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Tinkers and Enon

“Martha Anne Toll’s Three Muses is so surprisingly soulful. The surprise doesn’t lie in the existence of textured prose that explores dance, music, love and time in wholly different ways; it lies in how that textured prose actually creates a new time signature wholly dependent on practice and discipline. This is phenomenal writing. It just is.”

-Kiese Makeba Laymon, bestselling author of Heavy, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and Long Division

Three Muses is a tender, well-told story about how tragedies reverberate through the years and shape the course of two intersecting lives. This is a wonderful meditation on trauma and loss–and a love story in its own right.”

-Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State, 2018 National Book Foundation “5 under 35” honoree, finalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, and contributing editor at The Millions.

Three Muses is a hauntingly beautiful testament to the power of art and love. With exquisite craft, Toll writes about dance and music in sentences that sing. She is a writer to watch.”

-Lara Prescott, New York Times bestselling author of The Secrets We Kept, now being adapted for television

“A grand generosity of spirit pervades this book, which weaves together threads of love, loss, memory and art. Martha Anne Toll’s Three Muses takes art seriously, delves deeply into the discipline and sacrifice it requires, and connects its transcendent power to the messy, quotidian world not just of artist and performers, but the audience as well. The perfect idyll of ballet isn’t dismantled, but it is demystified, and we learn how it is constructed. This is the rare book that looks behind the curtain with genuine empathy, insight and love.”

-Philip Kennicott, Pulitzer Prize winning art and architecture critic for The Washington Post, and author of Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning 

“Delving deep into the heart of the human experience, Toll has given us a capacious and deeply felt novel about trauma and ambition, art, passion, and the vagaries of memory. Three Muses is a love story that isn’t afraid to contend with difficult questions, a wise and compassionate meditation on beauty, loss, and the many invisible lives we might have lived.”

-Michael David Lukas, author and winner of the National Jewish Book Award for the Last Watchman of Old Cairo

“Martha Anne Toll’s Three Muses follows two characters for whom, as children on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, art functions as both a means to salvation, and as a burden that can come close to feeling like a curse. Beautifully written, and vivid with detail and insight, this novel is brimming with moments of kindness and light that thread through tapestries of loss and pain.”

-Moriel Rothman-Zecher, author of Sadness is a White Bird, Finalist, National Jewish Book Award and Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Three Muses is a beautifully written, lyrical novel, a meditation on the way the past haunts and shapes us. Following Katya and John across decades and continents, Martha Anne Toll weaves a gorgeous story of love and survival.”

-Jillian Cantor, USA Today bestselling author of Half Life

Three Muses is a love story with a deep heart–powerful, resonant, and ultimately affirming–a dance of memory, grief and healing, and the saving grace of art.”

-Sari Wilson, author of Girl Through Glass, acclaimed novel about a young girl’s coming of age in the New York City Ballet and of “obsession and perfection.”

“Martha Anne Toll’s Three Muses makes song out of the toughest things: the inevitability of grief, the difficult work of remembrance, the hard-won belief that our abandoners release us to ourselves. It holds both brutality and benevolence in the same space, though the former doesn’t crowd the room. It respects joy when it appears. This is a wonder of a novel, intricate, involving, soulful, and full of awe at all the ways human beings manage to keep their love intact.”

-Paul Lisicky, author of Later: My Life at the Edge of the World

“In Three Muses, Martha Toll’s magnetic storytelling pushes past the limits of longing, memory, and identity to bring us into the fully realized world of her characters. Where the ravages of Nazi concentration camps through a child’s eyes are brought to life with as much vividness as the flowers and ballet of modern-day Paris, at its heart Three Muses is a dance through time. Fates intersect and love somehow finds a way. And though the journey to reckoning be long, so too does a woman find her way back to herself.”

-Morowa Yejide, author of Creatures of Passage and The Time of the Locust

“Martha Anne Toll’s moving and accomplished debut is transporting, lyrical, and deeply provocative. With a nod to the legendary work of George Balanchine, Three Muses excavates the legacy of trauma, the cost of secrecy, and the complex entanglements of art and survival.

-Amy Gottlieb, author of The Beautiful Possible

“Martha Anne Toll’s Three Muses is a beautifully crafted debut novel that explores the power of art to help the wounded survive, heal, and find some semblance of home after suffering horrific losses. This gripping story renders humankind at its worst and most tender. Three Muses is so deeply engrossing that readers won’t want to emerge from the dream Toll has created.”

-Michelle Brafman, author of Bertrand Court and Washing the Dead

“Martha Anne Toll has written a beautiful, gripping novel, Three Muses. It is a story that explores grief and sacrifice, longing and ambition, in the years and decades that follow World War II, at once a complex love story and a modern dance.”

-Devi S. Laskar, author of The Atlas of Reds and Blues, winner of The Crook’s Corner Book Prize and the Asian/Pacific American Award in Literature

Three Muses is a beautiful story about art, love, and the generational traumas that lead to both for its central characters. Martha Anne Toll’s prose jumps off the page and kept me engrossed from start to finish.”

-Sopan Deb, New York Times writer, author of Missed Translations: Meeting the Parents Who Raised Me and the novel The Elm Tree [forthcoming 2022 Simon & Schuster]

“What a lyrical, exquisite novel! Two people seeking love and not daring to give in to it: a Holocaust survivor, now a wistful young psychiatrist in search of his identity, and a prima ballerina who has given up her own to reach perfect beauty. From the public wards of the mentally troubled to the world of ballet barres and a Seder where the ghosts of the dead speak louder than the living, Three Muses is a haunting story of who we love and why.”

-Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet and The Boy in the Rain

“If one had to choose, would it be art or would it be love? In an ambitious novel that travels from the Holocaust to the Paris Opéra, from the intimacy of a psychiatric session to the intimacy of a love affair between a renowned choreographer and his principal dancer, Three Muses wrestles not only with the weight of memory and trauma, but also with the nature of creativity, the value of art, and the power of desire to bruise and heal.”

-Laura McBride, author of We Are Called to Rise and In the Midnight Room