Robert Meeropol

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"Robby & Elli" 1968

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The Piano of Death

July 30, 2017

Tags: Kinship of Clover

The Piano of Death

It has been over two months since I last posted a blog. Moving was disruptive, but now I’m ready to resume my posting routine. I’m going to start easy and take a break from the dire shape of the world with a more whimsical post.

In my wife’s latest novel, Kinship of Clover, she describes a grand piano in the lobby of an assisted living center. Death notices of residents are placed on the piano, accompanied by “framed photos taken decades earlier and a few pathetic paragraphs about long-ago jobs and awards.” Elli labelled this forlorn instrument “the piano of death.”

Elli’s father lived in an independent living/assisted living facility near us for over a decade before his death in January (six months before what would have been his 100th birthday.) There was a grand piano in the lobby, where the death notices appear, and I dubbed it “the piano of death.”

Elli frequently tells friends to watch what they say around her because their words could end up in one of her novels. I knew Elli’s penchant for appropriating such phrases, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when those words appeared in the novel. I don’t mind. In fact, I admit getting a kick out of making a contribution, however small, toward one of her creations. But since a number of residents of the facility buy and read Elli’s books, I wondered how they’d react when they came upon that description during their journey through Kinship of Clover.

Sure enough, one of the residents who had already read the book brought it up at a local reading. He said he immediately recognized the “piano of death” in the lobby of his building. Like many fiction writers, Elli has a fertile imagination, but she’d never dreamed of what he told her next.

In Elli’s book, it is a working piano that occupants sometimes play. But the resident who had already read Elli’s book, told her the piano in the lobby, the real one on which she based the story, has no insides. It can’t be played. It is a hollow sham of a piano. Hosting death notices was its only purpose.

I was shocked when I heard this. Instead of making a snarky remark with my “piano of death” comment, I had provided an accurate description. Once again, reality is stranger than fiction.

Selected Works

"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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