National Jewish Book Award Winner
The New York Times bestselling author of A Fierce Radiance and City of Light returns with a powerful and passionate novel—inspired by historical events—about two women, one European and one American, and the mysterious choral masterpiece by Johann Sebastian Bach that changes both their lives.
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. Lauren Belfer’s deeply researched, evocative, and compelling narrative resonates with emotion and immediacy.
In Belfer's compelling third novel, an American soldier in 1945 Germany unknowingly purloins a controversial unpublished cantata by the great Johann Sebastian Bach, and it ends up in the hands of the soldier's niece, Susanna Kessler, upon his death. The journey of this manuscript, with lyrics based on one of Martin Luther's anti-Jewish screeds, from Sara Itzig Levy a Jewish student of Bach's eldest son and the real-life budding doyenne of Berlin's upper echelons to America is interspersed with Susanna's own inner trajectory to finding normalcy and love in her life after being raped. The author's strengths lie in the historical passages, starting with the 1780s when Sara receives the cantata as a young woman, and continuing through her rise in society, her subsequent marriage, and her confidential gift of the manuscript to her beloved niece's daughter, Fanny (sister to Felix Mendelssohn). Fanny leaves it in a piano bench, where it's discovered by Susanna's uncle. Belfer's (A Fierce Radiance) comprehensive research brings depth and veracity to the novel, intertwining real-life figures and events from the past with the modern-day story and detailing the strong currents of anti-Semitism that have existed in Germany for centuries. The people in Susanna's life, as well as the contemporary situations Belfer portrays, are not as strongly drawn, and the passages about romance and sexual attraction in both the modern and historic realms never quite work. Nevertheless, this is an immersive, page-turning story emboldened by historical fact and a rich imagination.
And After the Fire
Wonderful, historical novel!
Poor grammar throughout. Characters are flat, with almost all of them being used to express Belfer’s own religious & social views. Storyline just keeps missing the mark. Enjoyed the J.S. Bach history...which was probably too in-depth for most readers to enjoy. Spend your book dollars on something else. Eh.
This book is breathtaking in its wealth of well researched information and knowledge. Weaving the historical background with the fictional lives of the main characters is superb and makes the novel one to remember.