Book description (from the back cover):
A mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz – and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.
Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl – a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.
In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover – the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul – who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting’s subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.
A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.
As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: the grim camps of Auschwitz and the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.
The Butterfly and the Violin is a beautiful debut novel that resists categorization. It’s a historical romance and a contemporary romance wrapped into one multilayered yet cohesive story. But it’s not just a romance (or two) either. It’s a tale, set partly amidst the horrors of Auschwitz, about how music and other arts can be a means of worship that can help sustain the human spirit even in terrible circumstances.
I felt that the contemporary and historical stories played off each other well. Both stories revolved around the same question. What happened to the violinist depicted in a particular painting (one that holds significance for the present day characters)? A question raised in the historical portion would be addressed in the contemporary portion and vice versa. At other times, a switch in time and perspective would serve to draw out the suspense and keep the pages turning. It all flowed together effortlessly for the reader… which I suspect meant a lot of hard work behind the scenes on the author’s part.
The contemporary romance was great fun, and I particularly liked William as a hero. The contrasts between his outward power and prestige and the glimpses we get of his vulnerability and approachability, were especially endearing. I’ll also confess that a clever first kiss scene set me to the kind of grinning that doesn’t wipe away easily. The beauty of including William and Sera’s story in this novel, besides being a good story in and of itself, was that it provided respite from the more emotionally challenging parts of the historical story. It didn’t lessen the impact of Adele’s and Vladimir’s story; rather it allowed the reader time to come up for air and process what was happening to them before diving back into the thick of things.
One particularly emotional part of the historical story did bring me to tears, a testimony to the closeness I felt with the characters. And yet, the overall tone of the novel, both the historical and contemporary portions, was one of hope. That’s quite an accomplishment considering the setting and subject matter. I wasn’t at all sure how the historical story would end until the very end of the book. But just like Sera, I felt I had to know what happened to Adele and Vladimir.
I admire the author’s skill in bringing the reader into the reality of the story with vivid details and three dimensional characters, developing the reader’s emotional investment with the characters, and yet never letting the story become overwhelmingly sad. What a truly beautiful first novel! I’m very much looking forward to Kristy Cambron’s second novel, A Sparrow in Terezin, scheduled for release in April of 2015.
Thank you to the author for providing the free copy of The Butterfly and the Violin that I received in a giveaway associated with the American Christian Fiction Writers’ book club. This book was October’s book of the month, and it made for a great discussion. I would highly recommend it to other book discussion groups… and to readers in general.
One of my favorite passages from this novel speaks so eloquently on the topics addressed, that I feel compelled to conclude my review with a quote:
“She told herself that to have something of worth in a world full of chaos was the very definition of beauty. It felt like a spiritual liberation that couldn’t be silenced. These prisoners, the ones who painted or wrote poetry or played in the orchestra – they refused to let that spirit die. And this, she decided, is why the heart creates.
“God plants the talent and it grows, sustained by a spirit-given strength to endure, even in the midst of darkness. It thrives in the valleys of life and ignores the peaks. It blooms like a flower when cradled by the warmth of the sun. It remains in a hidden stairwell in a concentration camp. It grows, fed in secret, in the heart of every artist.” (Chapter 29, pages 277-8)