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Julie Thomas – The Keeper of Secrets

September 27, 2013

LibraryThing Early Reviewers74. The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas (2013)

Length: 384 pages
Genre: General / Historical Fiction

Started: 08 September 2013
Finished: 12 September 2013

Where did it come from? LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
Why do I have it? I love intertwining modern and historical storylines, and the back cover blurb reminded me of the movie The Red Violin, which I also love.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 12 June 2013.

This violin’s been
through a lot, but so have the
people that owned it.

Summary: Daniel Horowitz is a virtuoso on the violin, but at age fourteen, when he is forced to give up baseball – his other passion in life – he rebels and refuses to play a single note. Orchestra conductor Rafael Gomez hears the story and wants to help. When he hears that Daniel’s family once owned an extraordinary violin – an 1742 Guarneri del Gesú that was confiscated by the Nazis when the Horowitzes were sent to Dachau – he believes that if this violin could be recovered, it may convince Daniel to play again. But tracing the violin through the decades and across Europe is no small matter, and even if it is found, proving it to be the property of the Horowitzes may be next to impossible.

Review: This book is lucky it was an early reviewer book, since I tend to give them more of a chance to hook me than I do most other books. If I hadn’t felt an obligation to keep reading for the sake of the review, I would have dropped this book at page 50, if not before. I was having a hard time with Thomas’s writing style, which was overly descriptive, and strangely distancing, and nothing in the plot had really interested me yet. Even by page 100, when I surely would have put down an ordinary book, nothing much had really happened.

The good news is that once the first of the two historical storylines started, I finally started to get interested. Thomas’s writing may have improved in the historical voices, or I may just not have noticed it as much, but I was having an easier time with the prose, and although the World War II / concentration camp storyline didn’t really offer me anything new, it was at least engaging enough to keep my interest. The second historical section, in communist Russia, was less familiar, but also more engaging than the modern day storyline. Actually, the part of the book I enjoyed the most was the very end, where Thomas really finally digs into the ethical issues she’s been dancing around since the beginning, about the ownership of ill-gotten war goods, decades and generations after the fact. But given how slow of a start this book was for me, I’m lucky I got that far at all.

Perhaps some of it might be that I am not a particularly musical person. I like music, including classical music, but I freely admit that I don’t have an ear for it. I don’t know if I could tell the difference between a piece played well and a piece played exceptionally, let alone the difference between the same piece played on two different instruments, and that distinction, that discussion of why the 1742 Guarini is so special, takes up a lot of this book’s time. Likewise, the story of Daniel needing to play this one special violin to encourage him to play at all may be legit for a musician, but seemed to me to be more of a convenient plot device to get to the historical bits, than an organic part of the story, which may be why it took me so long to plow through that first part of the book. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: There did wind up being some interesting parts to this story but I don’t know if it’s worth the extended slow start to get there. I feel like Girl in Hyacinth Blue dealt with a similar idea (albeit with art rather than a musical instrument) in a more readable and compelling way.

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Other Reviews: Bookfoolery, Chocolate & Croissants
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First Line: “What does it mean when someone calls you swine?” Simon Horowitz asked suddenly, as his father’s black Mercedes-Benz rolled to a stop at the top of a blind alley off the Friedrichstraße.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 3: “Simon turned his attention to the nearest violin; it was a rich orange-brown with lighter-colored purfling around the edges.” – An ornamental border or edging.
  • p. 4: “Amos and his father stood at the workbench surrounded by the tools of the luthier’s trade: chisels, jack planes, scrapers, files, and gouges.” – One that makes or repairs stringed instruments, such as violins.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 2, 2013 8:41 am

    Hmm. Given your comments it sounds very much like it’s a plot device. While owning and playing a beautiful old violin may well encourage an already good player, I don’t see why its acquisition would persuade David that it’s a worthwhile exchange for baseball, particularly as it’s a conscious choice not to play rather than a psychological block.

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