Vienna Prelude, Historical Fiction, 1936

CWF Book Review by Lindy Hope

Vienna Prelude is a book that can stand alone as historical fiction, set in 1936, just before war broke out in Europe. From the outset, there is more to this story - the prelude to the story itself is in 1972, with a music scholar Ernestine in a little violin shop or store in England. She is looking for a quality violin, but she doesn't have that much money - just her own violin to trade in for something smaller - and after three days of listening to her play as she tries possible violins but finds nothing that really has the sort of tone she hoped for, the owners of the store bring out one last violin. It turns out it is possibly a four-hundred-year-old Guarnerius (some say it has better sound quality than a Stradivarius) which was brought to them by someone escaping from Eastern Europe. No supporting papers. Label inside - could be a forgery. Until they hear the girl playing. Here was something special. And you get the hint, from the title of the book that suggests something musical, and from these opening lines about the violin itself, that the violin is going to feature significantly as the story unfolds.

The next few pages of the book plunge you immediately into Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1936, and you meet Elisa, from Berlin but holding a Czech passport, a violinist in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. After the concert, she goes by train to visit her parents, who have realized that no one is safe under Hitler and the Nazis.

REading from the back-cover blurb: "In 1936 Nazi darkness descends upon Europe. Every person is only one step away from being swept into the nightmarish tide of evil. Blond Elisa Lindheim, and violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, adopts an Aryan stage name for protection. But her closest friend, Leah, a talented Jewish cellist, is in perilous position.

"There are those who choose to fight Hitler's madness. Elisa's father Theo. A courageous American reporter, John Murphy. Winston Churchill, a British statesman. A farm family in the Tyrolean Alps. The Jewish Underground.

"And now Elisa must decide.If she becomes part of the Underground, she risks everything...and puts everyone she loves in danger."

Growing up as I did in Post-War Europe I loved stories of the bravery of the resistance, and in my day-dreaming I sometimes wondered how I would have conducted myself. In my imagination I cast myself as a heroine of the resistance, rescuing Jewish families, smuggling - but I suspect I might not have managed so well in real life. Books like Vienna Prelude help you stand in the shoes of people who lived through it all.