And After the Fire

And After the Fire

A Novel

Book - 2016
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The New York Times-bestselling author of A Fierce Radiance and City of Light returns with a new powerful and passionate novel--inspired by historical events--about two women, one European and one American, and the mysterious choral masterpiece by Johann Sebastian Bach that changes both their lives.

In the ruins of Germany in 1945, at the end of World War II, American soldier Henry Sachs takes a souvenir, an old music manuscript, from a seemingly deserted mansion and mistakenly kills the girl who tries to stop him.

In America in 2010, Henry's niece, Susanna Kessler, struggles to rebuild her life after she experiences a devastating act of violence on the streets of New York City. When Henry dies soon after, she uncovers the long-hidden music manuscript. She becomes determined to discover what it is and to return it to its rightful owner, a journey that will challenge her preconceptions about herself and her family's history--and also offer her an opportunity to finally make peace with the past.

In Berlin, Germany, in 1783, amid the city's glittering salons where aristocrats and commoners, Christians and Jews, mingle freely despite simmering anti-Semitism, Sara Itzig Levy, a renowned musician, conceals the manuscript of an anti-Jewish cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, an unsettling gift to her from Bach's son, her teacher. This work and its disturbing message will haunt Sara and her family for generations to come.

Interweaving the stories of Susanna and Sara, and their families, And After the Fire traverses over two hundred years of history, from the eighteenth century through the Holocaust and into today, seamlessly melding past and present, real and imagined. Lauren Belfer's deeply researched, evocative, and compelling narrative resonates with emotion and immediacy.

Publisher: New York : HarperCollinsPublishersLtd, 2016
Edition: First Canadian edition
ISBN: 9781443448628
Branch Call Number: BELF
Characteristics: 451 pages ; 23 cm


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May 06, 2019

Great author; great read!

Oct 24, 2018

Readers (like myself) with a passion for classical music and the spectacular accomplishments of the great composers will love this book. It also helps to be at least passingly accustomed to the German language with its sound, structure and rhythms, so that the frequent insertion of phrases in that language doesn't interrupt the flow. Readers for whom neither of the foregoing conditions apply might find it a bit daunting; too bad, because this is a darned food yarn predicated on a delicious "what-if": the discovery of a previously unknown composition manuscript by J. S. Bach.
Research for such a bold novel would necessarily be extensive, multifaceted and meticulous; in this, Lauren Belfer does not fall short. Of particular note is her exploration of the pernicious influence of German Lutheran teaching in supposed "Christian" attitudes toward Jews, a topic that many traditional protestants will find objectionable. Sometimes historical facts are inconvenient.
Belfer's development of her main characters is uneven; I found it difficult to warm up to her protagonist Susanna. Her sexual assault added nothing of relevance to her persona or to the story; it was almost a needless distraction. She comes across as earnest and well-meaning but her inquiry into her own family history was coolly detached and unconvincing. Both Dan and Scott seem to be one-dimensional figures. But where Belfer really shines is in her development of Sara Itzig Levy, a real, living, breathing person; even though she only appears a few times, Sara's personality illuminates the whole book. Some of Belfer's minor characters add a welcome bit of spice, notably Mueller with his religious angst and compulsive need to convince others of his beliefs. And best of all, the mendacity of Fournier the glory hound, desperate to insert himself into whatever sensational discovery was afoot.
Belfer does not indulge in fine prose; much of her writing is flat, even dull. Hence four stars rather than five. But in the light of her other great accomplishments in constructing this cultural scavenger hunt, I'm willing to forgive such minor failings. Altogether, an engrossing and enjoyable book.

Mar 16, 2017

I learned some historical details that I found interesting. The writing was disappointing.

Mar 06, 2017

I started reading this book because I thought that the subject matter may be interesting. I found the book to be superficial and for the most part irrelevant. There was really nothing to the story and the ending was extremely weak. I would have appreciated a lot more detail about Bach's life and also about Mendelssohn. The most interesting part of the book was Sara's story but again there was very little real substance to the storyline. The anti-semitism in 19th century Germany was a lot more serious than was portrayed. Lea would never have baptized her children had there not been a lot more to it than was portrayed in the book. There also wasn't a real conclusion to Susanna's family history either. All she did was a little search with her computer if she really wanted to find out about her family she could have approached all sorts of databases to find out what had happened to her family so even that aspect of the novel was left incomplete. Overall I found the book very disappointing.

Feb 02, 2017

To my mind the book was less about music and more about the tensions between the early Lutherans, their modern descendants and Jews. Whilst I was aware of some of the anti-Jew prose in the St John Passion I was not aware that such sentiments were to be found in the cantatas. I found the descriptions of Jews in Prussia, having to protect themselves by conversion, disturbing. Modern parallels spring to mind.....

Jan 26, 2017

the previous comment states that a reader interested in romantic German composers would like this book. Bach was not a "romantic composer", although I concede he was German. The novel is well written and well plotted, in my opinion, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys good, serious writing.

Sep 28, 2016

While this text has an interesting and unique premise, the plot is a little disorganized and confused. At times, the author seems to forgo the plot in order to overly detail the music. I felt more interesting details were overlooked or ignored. I would recommend this text if you are interested in romantic German composers.

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