I read this book in anticipation of the Maltz Museum’s exhibit of the same name (http://www.maltzmuseum.org/news/violins-of-hope-cle/). It is always difficult to read about the Holocaust. Still, I appreciated Grymes’ attention to detail, especially in the Norway section. And the focus on music, and the violins in particular, brought up some interesting questions. Some wondered how the Nazis could both love music and do what they were doing (see, I can’t even name it). Some saw their love for the music as evidence that some humanity remained. Also, I began to wonder how the other Jews felt about the musicians getting special treatment. Certainly, they were not the only group singled out and protected. But I would have liked Grymes to explore this question a bit more.
I am eager to see the exhibit and participate in some of the associated programming.
When I first learned that Modiano had won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, my first reaction was, “Who?” But I dutifully added him to my list of authors to explore. When I finally found several of his books on the shelf, I chose this not because of its length (just 120 pages), but because it was the only one that didn’t have the Holocaust mentioned on the back. (I often take self-imposed breaks from stories that relate to the Holocaust. Given this new survey though – http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/05/the-world-is-full-of-holocaust-deniers/370870/ – maybe I shouldn’t.)
I should have known better. The Holocaust is here, albeit at some distance, a distance some try to keep in almost surreal ways. Our narrator, Jean B., is moving in and out of time, in and out of place, and in and out of reality. Boundaries are blurring, and he has settled, comfortably, into the grey. We’re in Beckett country here.
Modiano’s prose is straightforward. He lets his details do the work and Barbara Wright, his translator, belongs to that school of translators that dictates that the translator’s job is to stay out of the way.
The cover art, a detail from The Philosopher’s Conquest by Giorgio de Chirico (here’s the whole thing – http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/30839) is the perfect choice. Verba Mundi, an International Literature Series, has produced a nice edition.
I look forward to more Modiano.