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?
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.