This is the story of Elizabeth Erdman, a professional singer, from the time she was a young woman in the 1920s to her death on 29 September 1941 in Kiev where she was killed like many other Jews by the Nazis. The tale is a subtle maze of poetry and case history, dreams, fantasy and historical facts. The novel opens with a letter written by Sigmund Freud about one of his patients, a young woman singer whose career was interrupted and who wrote "verses" between the staves of a score of "Don Giovanni" showing that she suffers from a severe sexual hysteria.
Indeed, in the first chapter, the reader is confronted with Lisa's "verse", a mixture of pornographic material and hallucinatory dreams of horrible events that took place at a white hotel set in the Austrian Alps. Then follows an account in prose of how the patient allegedly met Freud's son who took her to the white hotel where she experienced a nearly constant sado-masochistic love making. There she also "witnessed" several tragedies: the hotel catching fire, people perishing in a landslide or in a cable-car accident.
Following this account, a fictional Freudian case study partly explains Lisa's hallucinations through a careful analysis of her youth. After Freud's psychotherapy, Lisa appears to have regained her sanity because as of the spring of 1929, she resumes her career as a singer and becomes quite a renown artist. The reader follows her from Milan to Vienna where she marries Victor. Her voice gradually fades in quality and her final move is to Odessa before World War II and before the Nazis manage to occupy this Russian city.
A book to experience rather than simply to read, a haunting and strange novel, its plot woven like a tapestry, full of beautiful and sad characters.