THE BLACK VIOLIN by Maxence Fermine


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The French author’s second to appear here (after Snow, 2003), said to be a success in Europe, is a small little tidbit of Hallmarkiana about a musician who lives—and dies—during the Napoleonic era.

Johannes Karelsky, born in 1764, becomes a violinist at age five, after hearing a traveling gypsy’s performance. A child prodigy, two years later he begins performing, soon doing so in all the European courts, acclaimed as “a great violinist, because the music he played came not from his hands but from his heart.” Well, maybe so. Things begin to pale, though, his career stalls, he ages, and, at 31, in 1796, he gets called up for military duty and finds himself a part of Napoleon’s Italian campaign. Desperately wounded on the battlefield and left to die, he’s visited by a mysterious woman—real or imaginary we’ll never know—who gives him water and then sings to him though the night. Could this fateful encounter (he survives!) be an omen in some way related to his driving lifelong desire to compose “the most beautiful opera ever written”? Gee, maybe so. Because he’s been so badly wounded, Johannes is left behind in Venice on desk duty when the rest of the army moves northward—and he’s billeted in the house of one Erasmus, a man without a family who’s a maker of—yes—violins! (“My real homeland is music,” says Erasmus. “I don’t care that much about the rest”). Will Johannes reveal to Erasmus that he himself is a great violinist? (Yes.) Will he have other semi-mystical experiences regarding music, his opera, and the mysterious black violin that hangs on the wall of Erasmus’s workshop? (Yes, yes, and yes.) Will he—gasp—actually compose his brilliant opera? Well, we’re not telling. Read and find out for yourself (it won’t take long).

Silly and sugary stuff. Could better have been packaged as a greeting card of one kind or another.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 2003
ISBN: 0-7434-5685-8
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2003