And After the Fire

Belfer, Laura. Harper. May 2016. 464p. ISBN 9780062428516. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062428547. F
OrangeReviewStarIn this work of historical fiction by Belfer (A Fierce Radiance), Susanna Kessler is cleaning out her Uncle Henry's desk when she finds a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach. Her attempts to prove its authenticity and understand the context of its inflammatory text send Susanna and archival musicologist Dan to Berlin and then to the remains of the Buchenwald concentration camp. In alternating chapters, readers are immersed in the life of Sara Itzig, a piano student of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the eldest son of Johann, who presents Sara with multiple pieces of original music as a wedding gift, including this controversial cantata. Later we meet musical luminaries of the 1780s–1850s as we visit several of Sara's famous concerts, whose attendees include Felix Mendelssohn and his little-known sister, Fanny Hensel, a musician and composer in her own right.
VERDICT Belfer has created a fascinating historical novel and poignant love story that will open the eyes and ears of music lovers and please those who enjoy a graceful, spellbinding tale pondering important questions—in particular, how we live with the consequences of the Holocaust and whether we can enjoy art created by anti-Semites. [See Prepub Alert, 11/23/15; "Editors' Spring Picks," LJ 2/15/16, p. 30.]
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