When I read, I sometimes use a recent notecard a friend or family member has given me as my bookmark. While reading Lauren Belfer’s transcendent novel And After the Fire, I did just that. It makes me feel like I am reading with someone whose company I enjoy. As I neared the end of this most wonderful novel, I felt emotional. I did not want the book to end.
Here’s the description from Lauren Belfer’s website: “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.”
Belfer says: “I wanted to tell the story of a fictional musical masterpiece from the time of its creation in the 18th century across two hundred years of German history, through the Holocaust and into the present.”
It took Belfer ten years to write the novel and the time allowed her pages to come to life. Characters live. The past and present are connected. Joy and sorrow sing different melodies and come together in transcendent wisdom, which we who read history always hope is possible.
I loved learning from an interview that Lauren Belfer’s advice to readers is this: “Keep working and keep sending out your work. The first short story I ever had published was rejected 42 times before it found an editor who loved it. The second short story I had published was rejected 27 times before it found the right editor.”
Don’t give up. Never give up. Sending a letter to a friend is writing a story. Sharing our stories is one way we can change the world for the better. And read this marvelous novel.