I requested this book from NetGalley with no prior expectations – I was simply drawn to the location (Berlin) and the nature of the story (I a drawn to books set during WWII).
Amongst all the books featured on this site, you occasionally come across a rare masterpiece and I was overjoyed to find that this was one of those books.
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
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Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Published on: 9 October 2018
Pages: 384 (Hardback)
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
“Goebbels used his position to infuse Nazi policies and ideology into the arts. He called it gleichschaltung – synchronizing – but to me, it meant that the bull was in charge of the china shop.”
When two world’s collide
Chicago-based lawyer Catherine and her PI husband Liam are asked by an Italian friend to help his elderly Aunt Gabi with a residency dispute in Tuscany. A powerful corporation are claiming the deeds to her land which means she will be evicted imminently. Adamant that the corporation are wrong, Gabi refuses leave. Before flying to Italy, Catherine and Liam receive a mysterious manuscript from Gabi which documents the life of Ada Baumgarten – a German girl born in Berlin, 1918. With no other information attached, Catherine and Liam are confused as to why Gabi wants them to read it, but believe it must hold some answers relating to the property dispute.
Switching perspectives, Ada narrates her life as a talented violinist inspired by her father – a member of the Philharmonic Orchestra. Though the family are well integrated in society and respected by many, this doesn’t stop them from being Jewish. When Hitler takes over Germany, Ada and her family use their talents in exchange for survival. Ada and her mother move to Bologna, believing they will be safer there. But how long can Ada use her musical talent to avoid capture by the Nazis? Will this actually be the downfall of her escape? And where is the connection to Gabi’s estate? Could this story from a different country and era hold the answers that will prove Gabi is the rightful owner of her property?
Based on the synopsis, I didn’t think I’d enjoy/understand the property and deed side of the story. I was more drawn to the war part which influenced my decision to request the book.
As it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the property deed as the characters began tracing back to discover the true ownership. It was something different and to me, that made for a refreshing and educational read. There was tension throughout as the characters raced against time as the eviction date loomed. There was the right amount of fast and slow, a gradual build-up with a clever climax.
A different perspective
Most books I’ve read about the holocaust have been from the point of view of Jewish prisoners, however this book was from the perspective of a Jewish family with wealth, fame and talent, giving them a higher status in society and a reason to survive. This gave the story an original angle that I found interesting and engaging.
“The BSO was performing Wagner’s Gotterdammerung on the day the world exploded. It was as if we were hired to record the soundtrack. We were performing it on the stage in the Teatro, while on the world’s stage a million Nazi troops were marching into Poland.”
This was one of my favourite books of 2018 and I can’t recommend it enough.