I received this book from the publisher for review.

and after the fire lauren belfer

“And after the fire” tells the story of a lost cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, stolen from a house in Germany after World War II and now in the hands of a young woman, Susanna, who, in order to find if the manuscript has any value, asks music scholar Dan Erhardt for help. Not only does Dan confirm that the manuscript has Bach’s own handwriting on it, which could lead to an astonishing breakthrough, but he also notices the extremely controversial verses accompanying the music – anti-Semitic verses written in German to perform in church services, no less.

Alternating chapters, the story of such manuscript is revealed from the moment Bach’s eldest son gives it to his most talented music student, a Jew young woman called Sara Itzig, in the belief that she will comprehend its value and keep it from anti-Semitic Christian hands, who are gaining power in Prussia in the late eighteenth century. This – the decay of the Jewish prominence in the European elite – is the main topic of this half of the book, in which Sara’s family endure, devoting themselves to music.

And after the fire Lauren Belfer

The historical part of the story, based on real characters of the past, was as interesting as the main plot set in the present, where Susanna and Dan try to discover the whereabouts of a cantata that has been hidden for so many years, and the implications of revealing its existence to the public – music and verses written by the master which claim the convenience of burning the Jews don’t seem very appropriate, right? Besides, these contemporary characters are interesting by themselves; their backgrounds make the reader feel sympathy for them.

There are minor parts of the book I didn’t found that good, like the kind-of love triangle that includes Susanna, Dan and a friend of his, unnecessary in this story, but there is one scene that I particularly disliked and I need to tell you: Susanna and Dan travel to Germany and, at the hotel, people stare at her in disgust because she is a Jew and they end up making a scene there. In 2010! I’m not talking about the fact that they are in a hotel and the other guests might not even be Germans, but I find it utterly implausible the author’s affirmation that Germans nowadays are anti-Semitic and are keen to show this in public, not to mention the fact that I don’t really think people can tell someone is a Jew just by their appearance. That said, I have never been in Germany myself.

So I’ll pretend I haven’t read such a scene because, overall, this was a good book; I enjoyed reading about real musicians of the past, as well as wondering if we’ll ever find out about the mysteries that have been kept secret.

rakin4And after the fire
Lauren Belfer
Published by Harper
464 pages