A SYMPHONY OF RIVALS by Roma Calatayud-Stocks


Email this review


This second installment of a trilogy focuses on a musician in pre-World War II Germany.

Alejandra Stanford Morrison is a strong-willed woman with ambitions to become a symphony conductor, though it defies the gender expectations of the 1930s. When she learns of her acceptance into a prestigious conservatory in Berlin, her ecstasy is met with reluctance from her husband, Richard, who fears the extended separation between Alejandra and her family (which includes three children). But he eventually voices his support, leaving her in Germany with their Jewish friends Hannah and Ben Adelman. Part One chronicles their travels and musical training amid increasing political tensions in Germany and Austria. Meanwhile, Alejandra faces another kind of turmoil: finding a balance between her professional activities and her domestic life. But most of the drama centers on Alejandra thwarting the romantic advances of a new German friend named Anton Everhardt while trying to halt her own interest in him. After returning to her Minnesota home for a few peaceful years, she travels back to Europe upon learning of the disappearance of Ben and Hannah, and their son, Joseph. After enlisting the help of Anton to locate them, she soon finds her own life in peril as well as Anton’s and Richard’s. In the book’s first half, readers must wade through extensive musical and artistic commentary to follow a plot that overall lacks intensity. Fortunately, the momentum eventually accelerates with the emergence of more serious conflicts, finally leaving readers with a cliffhanger that should entice them to pick up the next volume. Calatayud-Stocks (A Song in My Heart, 2011) portrays her characters clearly, each with a unique voice and agenda, but they require more complexity to avoid becoming predictable and stagnant. In addition, the dialogue is sometimes stilted and too revealing (“I accept your generous gift, and I’m shocked, ecstatic, and bewildered”) and needs to be better supplemented with the characters’ actions and nonverbal cues. But even with these flaws, this novel raises stimulating questions regarding work/life balance and the entwinement of art and politics. And for culture enthusiasts, the author once again offers musical selections corresponding to each chapter.

A suspenseful bridge to the final volume of a historical fiction series.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-9987319-3-3
Page count: 428pp
Publisher: Calumet Editions
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:


FictionMUSIC OF A LIFE by Andreï Makine
by Andreï Makine
FictionI DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT by Allison Pearson
by Allison Pearson
ChildrenMUSIC FOR THE END OF TIME by Jen Bryant
by Jen Bryant