Walking his children to school down the narrow streets of Paris, American Thad Carhart discovered a window display of piano repair tools and hardware. Behind the display was a mysterious shop into which he had never seen anyone enter. After weeks of wondering, he opened the door and began a musical adventure, which he describes in The Piano Shop on the Left Bank.
What was not apparent from the street was that the small shop opened into a large and ancient showroom full of grand and upright pianos, some in pieces, others ready for sale. The instruments came from many eras and surrounding countries. The charming but secretive shopkeeper rekindled Carhart's desire to own and play piano and introduced him to strange and curious community of French piano lovers.
I enjoyed the world into which Carhart draws his readers. It is filled with wonderful personalities and details. I especially had to laugh when I learned that the Cistercian monks of Citeaux build sitars. (Say that out loud.)
The Piano Shop on the Left bank is part memoir and part microhistory. It will appeal to anyone who loves music, wants to learn more about pianos, or wishes that they could live in Paris.
If you like this book, try Guitar: An American Life by Tim Brookes, which is also a mixture of memoir and musical microhistory. You might also enjoy Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer, which tells about expatriates hanging around a Paris bookstore. After reading, you may want to listen to piano sonatas by Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, and Scarlatti. In Real Story, Sarah Statz Cords recommended this book to readers of A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel.
Carhart, Thad. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier. New York: Random House, 2001. ISBN 0375503048