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Exile Music
Cover of Exile Music
Exile Music
A Novel
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Based on an unexplored slice of World War II history, Exile Music is the captivating story of a young Jewish girl whose family flees refined and urbane Vienna for safe harbor in the mountains of Bolivia
As a young girl growing up in Vienna in the 1930s, Orly has an idyllic childhood filled with music. Her father plays the viola in the Philharmonic, her mother is a well-regarded opera singer, her beloved and charismatic older brother holds the neighborhood in his thrall, and most of her eccentric and wonderful extended family live nearby. Only vaguely aware of Hitler's rise or how her Jewish heritage will define her family's identity, Orly spends her days immersed in play with her best friend and upstairs neighbor, Anneliese. Together they dream up vivid and elaborate worlds, where they can escape the growing tensions around them.
But in 1938, Orly's peaceful life is shattered when the Germans arrive. Her older brother flees Vienna first, and soon Orly, her father, and her mother procure refugee visas for La Paz, a city high up in the Bolivian Andes. Even as the number of Jewish refugees in the small community grows, her family is haunted by the music that can no longer be their livelihood, and by the family and friends they left behind. While Orly and her father find their footing in the mountains, Orly's mother grows even more distant, harboring a secret that could put their family at risk again. Years pass, the war ends, and Orly must decide: Is the love and adventure she has found in La Paz what defines home, or is the pull of her past in Europe—and the piece of her heart she left with Anneliese—too strong to ignore?
Based on an unexplored slice of World War II history, Exile Music is the captivating story of a young Jewish girl whose family flees refined and urbane Vienna for safe harbor in the mountains of Bolivia
As a young girl growing up in Vienna in the 1930s, Orly has an idyllic childhood filled with music. Her father plays the viola in the Philharmonic, her mother is a well-regarded opera singer, her beloved and charismatic older brother holds the neighborhood in his thrall, and most of her eccentric and wonderful extended family live nearby. Only vaguely aware of Hitler's rise or how her Jewish heritage will define her family's identity, Orly spends her days immersed in play with her best friend and upstairs neighbor, Anneliese. Together they dream up vivid and elaborate worlds, where they can escape the growing tensions around them.
But in 1938, Orly's peaceful life is shattered when the Germans arrive. Her older brother flees Vienna first, and soon Orly, her father, and her mother procure refugee visas for La Paz, a city high up in the Bolivian Andes. Even as the number of Jewish refugees in the small community grows, her family is haunted by the music that can no longer be their livelihood, and by the family and friends they left behind. While Orly and her father find their footing in the mountains, Orly's mother grows even more distant, harboring a secret that could put their family at risk again. Years pass, the war ends, and Orly must decide: Is the love and adventure she has found in La Paz what defines home, or is the pull of her past in Europe—and the piece of her heart she left with Anneliese—too strong to ignore?
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  • From the book One

    In May 1928, the Nazi Party gains twelve seats in Germany's elections.

    My parents fell in love when they were still students at the UniversitŠt fŸr Musik und darstellende Kunst. While women were unwelcome in the Vienna Philharmonic and in the music world at large, opera required them. For this reason, my mother trained her voice rather than her fingers, even though her fingers had always been rather good at piano.

    On a rare warm spring day my father had stopped on the shores of the canal to play to the lilacs, the passing boats, and the birds. My mother, who recognized him as well as the song he played, had paused to add her voice. "I couldn't help it," she told me. "I love that song."

    But they can never agree on what he had been playing. She says it was Handel's "Flammende Rose," while he says it was definitely Brahms's "Zwei GesŠnge."

    "It can't have been," she argued. "I didn't even know 'Zwei GesŠnge' then."

    "But 'Flammende Rose' wasn't written for viola," he pointed out.

    Ultimately, the song didn't matter.

    They were so young. They had Willi when my mother was still a girl of seventeen. After that, they figured out how to avoid having another child for a decade.

    I was born on Friday, January 13, 1928, the same year Wolpe's satirical opera, Zeus and Elida, premiered, the same year the curtain rose on Weill and Brecht's Die Dreigroschenoper, and the same year Schoenberg composed Von heute auf morgen. Jewish musicians of Europe were busy creating.

    It was a happy year for my parents. While their salaries were modest, they had the good fortune of relatives who had chosen more practical careers. My mother's parents were flourishing bakers in a village near Graz. My father's father, an ophthalmologist, owned our three-story apartment building on Seegasse. My grandparents spent the early years of their own marriage in what would become our apartment, but once their children were grown they moved a block away to a smaller apartment on Pramergasse, over my grandfather's practice. Anneliese's family lived directly above us on Seegasse, the rooms of their apartment mirroring ours. On the top floor were the Windens, an elderly couple with no children who often invited Anneliese and me in for cake or a strudel. It was a quiet building, except for us.

    Anneliese and I were the laces that tied our two families together, though our parents had never been close. Her banker father's mind was occupied with figures and balance sheets while my father's preoccupations rarely ventured beyond the body of his viola, of the orchestra. My mother, whose concerns were with cavatina, recitative, and cabaletta, had no shared vocabulary with Ana's mother. Once in a while they happened upon a shared enthusiasm for a pastry recipe, but beyond that they regarded each other warily across the borders of our doorsills.

    As children, neither of us thought much about money, the privilege of having enough not to have to think about it. A privilege, like so many others, that I failed to appreciate until it was lost.

    My very first memory is a sound: the long shimmer of my fatherÕs bow across the strings, the upward flight of my motherÕs voice, filling the air of our apartment in 4 Seegasse as I lay on the living room floor, drawing.

    My second memory is tactile. When I was old enough to stay silent and still, my father took me to the Musikverein before one of his rehearsals with the Vienna Philharmonic. My mother must have been there, too, or my nanny, Stefi, to whisk me away when the musicians finished tuning their instruments, but I don't remember anyone except my father, who...
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    March 1, 2020
    Even after escaping the horrors of Nazi-occupied Austria, a creative young girl continues to be tested as she struggles to make a new life in Bolivia. Orly Zingel, born in 1928 to musical Jewish parents living in Vienna, has grown up happy and comfortable. She has a best friend, a make-believe world, and a beloved extended family, but all these will quickly be lost to her in 1938, when the Germans take over Austria and swiftly begin persecuting its Jews. Her father, a viola player in the Vienna Philharmonic, loses his job, and her opera-singer mother will soon find it impossible to make music too; and then the family is forced from their home into a cramped, overcrowded apartment. Steil (The Ambassador's Wife, 2013, etc.) traces this all-too-familiar descent a little too sweetly in the scene-setting opening chapters but then with mounting intensity as Orly's innocence is replaced by loss, shame, and terror. Fortunately, and after much effort, the Zingels secure visas to leave Austria, but their destination, La Paz in Bolivia, presents an immense culture shock which only Orly seems able to embrace. Befriending locals, she begins to learn both Spanish and Indian languages and delights in the country's music and myths. Steil traces the extreme challenges faced by the immigrants, both initially and after the war ends, with commitment but excessive length. As the extent of the Holocaust becomes known, the survivors must deal not only with their own losses, but also the sight of Nazis settling in Bolivia, too. Grief, vengeance, and elements of restoration wind through Orly's coming to terms with the past and her future, an important and touching journey though one that is diffused by its indulgent pacing. An empathetic revisiting of horrific history rendered less conventional for a Holocaust novel by its unusual setting.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 16, 2020
    In Steil’s tale of a Jewish family’s exodus from pre-WWII-era Vienna (after The Ambassador’s Wife), a young girl is forced to leave her best friend and emigrate to Bolivia. Ten-year-old Orly Zingel’s life is threatened when her musician parents lose their jobs performing operas and symphonies in Vienna after the German occupation, and their months-long wait for visas and passage on an Italian ship overlaps with Hitler’s ominous January 1939 Reichstag speech. Nazi soldiers evict them from their apartment building, and Orly is separated from her best friend, Anneliese, whose family lives there. Though refugee organizations help the Zingels get acclimated once they arrive in in La Paz, Bolivia, they endure altitude sickness and a longing for the refinement and familiarity of Vienna. Orly’s youth enables her to embrace Bolivian culture, while her father gives music lessons and plays the viola with ensembles of fellow refugees. As Orly befriends Miguel, she thinks of Anneliese and wonders if the friendship they shared was the prelude for a deeper relationship between them. Steil expertly weaves historical details into this immersive narrative, complete with a focus on the impact of music in the characters’ lives. Steil’s evocative look at a lesser-explored corner of WWII is well worth picking up. Agent: Brettne Bloom, the Book Group.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from April 1, 2020
    An oft-untold piece of WWII history is the focus of this novel about a Jewish refugee family in Bolivia. In 1930s Vienna, a young girl named Orly flees her home with her parents in the wake of the annexation of Austria by Germany and the tightening restrictions on the Jewish population under Nazi rule. The only country to which they are able to obtain visas is Bolivia, and Orly and her parents find themselves without money, friends, or any knowledge of Spanish in La Paz, which seems harsh and unsophisticated after the urbane world of Vienna. Orly adapts quickly to a new continent even as her parents struggle to leave their old life behind them, and the family waits anxiously for news of Orly's older brother, who remained in Europe, working with the French Resistance. Told over the course of two decades, this is a beautiful coming-of-age tale, following Orly as she questions her sexuality and struggles to come to terms with the horrors she escaped in her homeland. Moving, evocative, and well-researched, this is sure to linger in readers' minds long after the last page has been turned.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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Exile Music
A Novel
Jennifer Steil
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