And After the Fire
By Lauren Belfer
Lauren Belfer narrates the family history behind a lost Bach composition, long kept hidden because of its distasteful lyrics, and its impact on the present heir. I played with a similar theme, though not as deeply, in my book, In Rembrandt’s Shadow, in which vignettes of a lost Rembrandt’s role in true historical events alternate with the present-day search to find its true owner.
Belfer’s book opens in 1945, when two American soldiers, Henry and Pete, touring war-torn and abandoned Weimar, Germany, happen upon a deserted mansion. They are attacked by a young girl, and Henry kills her. Looking through the mansion, Henry finds an old folder and discovers it to be a composition by Bach with virulently anti-Semitic lyrics. He is Jewish and has just been to Buchenwald. He takes it with him back to the Army base and then to America. He keeps it out of respect for a Bach composition but hides it because of the anti-Semitism expressed.
In 2010, Susanna Kessler, Henry’s niece, is summoned to Henry’s home in Buffalo to clear out the contents after his death. She finds the Bach composition, and a note from Henry giving it to her with the hope that she would know what to do with it. She is puzzled because she can’t read the German, but the composition is obviously very old. Susanna is in a vulnerable place. She was raped a year before and her husband, Alan, couldn’t handle the emotional aftermaths so they divorced.
The story steps back in time to October 1776. Sara Itzig, a renowned Harpsichordist and daughter of Frederick the Great’s banker, counts herself as one of the elite in 18th century Berlin. She is a student of Johann Sebastian Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. They enjoy a close friendship, but he is an old man and as his final gift to Sara, he gives her the original score of one of his father’s cantatas, but as she reads the libretto, her joy turns to horror.
The book is rich in atmosphere, historical detail, and real-life musical greats including Beethoven and Felix and Fanny Mendelsohn. The pervasive stench of anti-Semitism invades all their lives as well as the culture of Germany, the Lutheran Church, and all of Europe. Susanna’s own family covers up the fate of her many Jewish relatives in Germany, and so the question of what to do with Bach’s cantata becomes a moral and ethical dilemma for everyone who handles the composition.
The history and the characters and the complexity of their lives are deftly handled and make this book a compelling read.
And for a lighter and more fast-paced adventure, try my book, In Rembrandt’s Shadow.
Eileen Haavik McIntire is staying home during the current coronavirus crisis. She hopes you are, too. What a great time to write and read!
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I love mysteries, secrets, strange people and weird places and hope to share what I find interesting with you on this website and in the mysteries I write.
For more about my mysteries, go to the 90s Club and the Shadow Series pages.
- Eileen Haavik McIntire
Comments from reviewers about my books:
The Two-Sided Set-Up - “McIntire’s latest novel is a fast-paced and multilayered thriller with well-developed characters and colorful settings...Most of the action is set in Virginia, and McIntire does a fine job of capturing the rhythm of its small-town life, from the friendliness of local business to the calm of quiet nights on the water. An engaging tale for aficionados of psychological suspense.” - Kirkus Reviews
Shadow of the Rock – “A riveting tale of time and humanity, highly recommended.” (Midwest Book Review) “A bold adventure....Chapters move quickly in a mixture of danger, excitement, and pure enjoyment...” (Foreword Reviews).
The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase – “With plenty of humor and its own original tale . . .a must” for readers of cozy mysteries. (Midwest Book Review)
The 90s Club & the Whispering Statue - “A fun read....nostalgia and...social commentary, wrapped up in an engaging mystery novel.” (Foreword Reviews)
The 90s Club & the Secret of the Old Clock – “An impressively well crafted and thoroughly entertaining mystery that plays fair with the reader from beginning to end,” (Midwest Book Review)
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
― Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades