Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Review: The Keeper of Secrets

I read this book a few weeks ago and remember it well, but not because of the title. Sometimes a title just doesn't fit a book, and this is one of those times.

But I digress, and I haven't even started. I liked this book by Julie Thomasin spite of the title that I could never remember. (Maybe that has something to do with reading Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper earlier this year.) The story follows a 1742 Guarneri del GesĂș violin as it is passed—and stolen—from person to person across several generations.

It begins in 1942 with the Horowitz family, a wealthy, cultured Jewish family of gifted musicians. Everything changes for them on Krystallnacht, when all of the family's possessions are confiscated by the Nazis. The family members are sent to concentration camps. Simon, the second son, survives Dachau only because of he is a gifted musician and is forced to play for the guards.

The violin's next life is with a Russian family, who deceptively procured the violin through the horrors of war. Sergei Valentino's beloved aunt believes her father when he tells her that he bought the Guarneri del GesĂș, and it is passed on to Sergei when she is murdered. (That's another story line.) Sergei ultimately becomes a billionaire and a great patron of the arts.

Eventually the owners of the violin meet up in the present time, when 14-year-old violin virtuoso Daniel Horowitz decides he'd rather play baseball than the violin. While the stories of Simon Horowitz in Germany and the Valentinos in Russia were superb and positively riveting, this whole plot line was weak. The revealing of the violin's true ownership was confusing and way too complicated. Daniel was a fairly well-defined character, but his interaction with his mother was just silly. And the whole refusing to play violin because he wanted to play backyard baseball was silly, too. I would have liked the novel better without the intrusion of Daniel's story, or with Daniel's story being as compelling as that of the other sections.

That said, I really liked this novel. The Dachau section itself was amazing, even more so for me because my oldest son actually visited Dachau as I was reading the novel. It was terribly sobering to see his pictures of Dachau as I read Simon's story. The author's research on the violin's history was also excellent. Recommended—but be prepared to be annoyed with the contemporary story.

1 comment:

Anna said...

It's rare that I feel really drawn to the contemporary story in these dual narrative books, but I have read a couple recently in which both the past/present narrative were equally interesting. Still, I'm looking forward to this one. I'm sure the photos made for a richer reading experience.