Once upon a time, I published a big fat book, so very big and so very fat that it required two volumes to contain its pages, all 1,800 of them (in manuscript form)—at least, so said the publisher whom I paid to publish since conventional publishers seemed risk averse to publishing so very large a book about classical musicians. Somehow, word got around, people were reading the book, and I was hearing from them around the world, most from the US, but also from Brazil, Chile, the UK, Greece, Canada, Mexico, even China. On one occasion when I had computer trouble and called Dell Help, I was transferred to Chennai (Madras). When I gave the respondent my name he asked: “Are you the Boman Desai who wrote TRIO?” The book isn’t going to make me rich; sales are minimal, but appear to be casting a wide (if not a deep) net.
A favorite response ran: “I finished your novel, ‘Trio,’ and found it compelling and illuminating. As a scholar and sometime singer, I fully appreciated the immense scholarship and empathy that went into it. Would that the American reading public could appreciate such a story as well told. It’s a story that Tolstoy might have told in similar terms, and I do hope that it eventually gets you the recognition it deserves. It is surely a tour de force.”
The author of these kind words was Vernon A. Howard, a Harvard professor, Doctor of Philosophy, and author of a number of books. We had a brief exchange before going separate ways. I didn’t know much about him then—but, in 2015, when my publisher developed the facility to publish the book in a single volume, I attempted to get in touch again for permission to blurb his words, most particularly the Tolstoy reference. When I didn’t hear back I looked him up online, only to find he had died. I called the Harvard faculty, I called his publishers, but he had no descendants and they could not help regarding permission.
Continuing my armchair investigation, I discovered the funeral home (in Canada) where his obsequies had been prepared. The person I spoke with said there were two names in the register in his account, but she was forbidden to divulge them. I asked if she might contact the two herself for permission and about 3 weeks later, I received an email from Star Nacht—which I took for spam and prepared to delete before seeing “Vernon Howard Book Recommendation” in the subject line. Star Nacht (not her real name) was Dr. Howard’s executrix. Among other things, she said: “Vernon left no direct descendants, so I guess that would leave me; I was also his estate administrator. If my memory serves me right, Vernon read a book of yours in 2009/10 (he and I shared a deep love of classical music and opera)—I think it was about Robert and Clara Schumann, and I recall Trilogy being all or part of the title, or something like that.....? He thought it was a story worth being told and liked it very much. I remember he contacted you regarding your book.”
Long story short: It was, indeed, a STAR NACHT!