The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin & Will Cather is an extraordinary story of the friendship between Willa Cather and the author's mother, piano prodigy Yaltah Menuhin (1920-2001), sister of violinist Yehudi Menuhin. There is currently a resurgence of interest in the remarkable American author Willa Cather (1873-1947), many of whose novels explored women and creativity. This is a personal, yet universal, book which explores Cather's mentoring of the young pianist. It illuminates the lives and works of two important women artists and raises provocative questions about the effects of social and family constraints on the lives of brilliant women. Against the tumultuous backdrop of America and Europe in the early and mid-20th century, Rolfe presents an engrossing chronicle of his mother’s struggle as a budding musician, her tragic relationship with her parents, and the solace she found when Cather became her mentor. The mutually inspiring friendship, which endured for decades, inspired some the most memorable heroines in Cather’s novels, notably Lucy Gayheart.
“Rolfe opens up his family’s history to examine the creative symbiosis in the cross-generational friendship between Cather and Yaltah.” —Variety
“I very much enjoyed reading Rolfe’s memoir of his mother, family, and Willa Cather. Whereas conventional memoirs, biographies, and other stories of the artist focus upon the individual and his / her career, Rolfe’s book is a multigenerational story of a family; and it’s quite remarkable in this perspective. . . . I ended the book with deepened understanding of the special relationship between Rolfe’s mother and Willa Cather, and appreciated it for that reason. But mainly I appreciated it because of its insights. It is a deeply humanizing reminder of actual people who create the art, and who create the conditions of artistic performance.” —Susan J. Rosowski, University of Nebraska, and author of BIRTHING A NATION: Gender, Creativity, and the West in American Literature and THE VOYAGE PERILOUS: Willa Cather’s Romanticism