Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review: SAVING MOZART, by Raphael Jerusalmy

Saving Mozart, by Raphael Jerusalmy. Published 2013 by Europa Editions. Literary fiction. Translation.

Saving Mozart is a short, epistolary novel made up of the journals and letters of Otto Steiner, an elderly music critic slowly dying of tuberculosis in a nursing home in Germany between 1939 and 1940. He is a non-practicing Jew and lives in constant anxiety of being found out, but he has a lot of other problems besides that, including deteriorating finances, worsening living conditions, the death of friends and crumbling health. The only thing that keeps him going is music- his records and phonograph, his memories of music and his ability to participate in public musical life.

His friend Hans is his link to the outside world, and when the book opens Steiner is still able to attend concerts and publish articles but over time he becomes more and more isolated. His isolation is reflected conversely in his living conditions; as he becomes more cut off financially and socially from the outside world he transitions from a bed in a single room to one in a shared ward. Introverts like Steiner can be alone in a room full of people and most fully connected to themselves when by themselves.

Above all though Steiner loves music and the music of Mozart most of all. So he is naturally very upset to learn that Mozart's music will be featured at an annual concert that will also function as a propaganda opportunity for the Nazis whom Steiner detests. And so he comes up with a way to make a very public statement at this event, a statement which may go undetected by the very people it was meant to show up, but not by all.

Saving Mozart is a quick read about a topic familiar to many readers but it is an original take on the subject at the same time. I enjoyed the suspense as events lead up to the concert, and the suspense over the changes in Otto's life and fate. It is a moving testimony to an act of rebellion and the refusal of one person to be cowed by or submit to cruelty and horror. Jerusalmy keeps us tottering on a precipice. We know what could happen, what is happening in the background. The musicians play not as Rome burns but as people do.


This is my first book for the 2014 Europa Challenge. Want to join?

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.

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