*Nathaniel Lande. While The Music Played.
Read by Bronson Pinchot.
12 CDs. 15.5 hrs.
Journalist, filmmaker and prolific writer, Nathaniel Lande's excellent and deeply moving novel tells the story of Hitler's war from the perspective of German teen Max Mueller forced to become an adult too quickly. The story recounts how the lives of Max, his friends and family, change as Hitler and the Nazis gradually infiltrate Europe, slowly at first, then more rapidly as the Nazi "Final Solution" takes shape and is implemented. Film/television actor and Award-winning audiobook narrator, Bronson Pinchot, assigns each character an identifiable, emotional voice, excellently mastering accents of the different nationalities and classes, in addition to keeping the pace, the mysteries and the grim perspective in view.
Life was good in Prague in 1939. Max Mueller, an adolescent with a gift for music, piano tuning, and a budding journalist, found many doors and relationships open to him as the son of the noted German orchestral conductor, Viktor ("Poppy") Mueller. In addition to Hans Krasa, Czech composer of the famous children's opera, Brundibar and Anna Kingsley, British journalist for the Observer (London), Max's compatriots were David ("Topper") Gruenerwalt and Sophie, a teenage Jewish girl from Vienna, whom he grew to love. Max at 12 years of age is a young German student with great talent who believes in the goodness of all and loves for his famous Poppy. However, when the Nazis begin rounding up Jews, including his friends Max doesn't know whom to believe, what to think. Especially when his father becomes an officer in the German army and a close associate of the ruthless Nazi SS General Reinhard Heydrich (responsible for the murder millions during the war and nicknamed "The butcher of Prague"). Immediately, Viktor sends Max to Terezín/ Theresienstadt concentration camp (promoted as a "spa" for cultured and privileged Jews) where Hans, David, and Sophie had already been sent, to stay for the duration of the war.
Throughout this coming-of-age novel, Max finds his grounding in music, as do many of the other characters, even the German officers. Max, a protected German, tries all he can to help his friends, taking advantage of his father's connections to obtain medicine, musical equipment, and food for Terezin. Once the transports begin moving Jews from other concentration camps to Auschwitz, Max realizes with a shock where the war is headed and the looming fate of the Jews, even those at Terezin. Ultimately, Max learns the secrets which have protected his existence, as well as the secrets that hold danger for him. While the music played, there was hope, and Max and his friends knew how to wield its power for good as in their production of Brundibar.
Nathaniel Lande has written a well-researched story about the period, as well as a personal glimpse into the horror and grief of the outcome. An excellent, if heart-breaking, novel for adults and some teens, which reveals the horrors of war and its aftermath.
Reviewed by Susan Allison