Poland 1941, mother and daughter are hiding in a barn, silenced and afraid… The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner is filled with heartbreak, hope and music.

The Yellow Bird Sings

My Review:

Emotional, heartbreaking and hopeful, The Yellow Bird Sings touches the music of your soul.  It is 1941 Poland; Roza and Shira, mother and daughter are Jews, hidden in a barn by farmers.  Henryk, the husband, ensures their safety while violating Roza in the night, and his wife Krystyna, provides extra food for Shira; she believes all children deserve an equal chance.  Roza and Shira, silenced and afraid, lay quietly in the barn’s hay for more than 15 months.  After their family was violently taken from them, they have no choice but to go into hiding.  They revisit their cherished memories, whisper stories, use their imagination, and create music in their heads to soothe themselves and pass the time.

When the Germans announce plans to use the farmer’s barn for storage, mother and daughter must find a new safe space right away.  They are encouraged to separate so Shira can go to a convent to have lessons and be with other children, allowing her a better chance of surviving.  Filled with sadness, regret and fear, Roza is on her own and heads to the forest.

The Yellow Bird Sings will rip your heart out as you feel the emotional and physical struggles of both mother and daughter; at first stifled, secluded and living in silence with the burden and horrific fear of the unknown, with only what is inside their minds and their hearts to comfort and sustain them as they live day by day in hiding.  And then separated, longing to be together, doing everything possible to survive.

Author Jennifer Rosner tells an extraordinary story with beautiful use of language; her words and phrases are visual and powerful….

“Words to Zosia (Sofia) are like glass beads around her neck. If one were to break loose, they would all clatter to the floor and scatter, shatter the quiet that kept her and her mother alive, entwined beneath hay.”

When referring to understanding loss; “What is whole does not comprehend what is torn until it, too, is in shreds.”

When seeing other mothers with their children, “Something breaks loose inside Roza and skitters down the stairs of her heart.”

We follow Roza and Shira on their separate journeys, holding out hope that they will be reunited after the war.  With a blanket from the past, a magic yellow bird, cherished memories in their minds and soulful music in their hearts, The Yellow Bird Sings delivers a powerful story of Roza and Shira’s incredible survival, their unbreakable connection, their will to be heard, and the celebration of music that, through the generations, links us to each other.  Emotional, heartbreaking and hopeful, I could not put this book down and highly recommend it!

The Yellow Bird Sings will be available in 2020.  Pre-order your copy today!

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Q & A with Jennifer Rosner

I loved your debut historical fiction novel, The Yellow Bird Sings.  The story was powerful and your characters were filled with so much pain and love at the same time. The deep emotion it conveyed, the evocative, visual language you utilized and the heartfelt music that was described made me feel like I was experiencing the written word more fully and completely.

Thank you so much! This means a lot to me:) 

Q:  As a young child, Shira seems to have a special musical aptitude. What inspired you to use music in such a big way in your novel?  

A:  Music has had great connective power in my life; I sang as a child, and later trained to become an opera singer. My singing forged a rare connection between my mother and me; also, my father played violin daily, and his music connected us to each other, and also to Judaism.
In my novel, music is a connective tissue linking mother and daughter, together and apart, and expressing a bond that endures even in the most brutal of circumstances. Beauty, in music and in other forms, is a lifeline, conveying hope.

Q:  Shira has a special relationship with her violin teacher.  Who inspired this character?

A:  Several mentors in my musical, academic, and writing life have been deeply supportive and generous. In developing the teacher’s character, and their relationship, it felt important for Shira to feel a profound connection to the person who coached her and supported her musical genius.

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Q: Shira conjures a magic yellow bird, which she cups in her hands and also muffles to keep quiet. Shira’s mother then tells a nightly story of a girl and her bird, who avert threats and find safety. What is the significance of Shira’s bird?  

A:  While Shira must be silent, her yellow bird sings out the music she hears in her head and in other ways enacts the childhood she cannot. Her bird brings security as well as expression. The magic of Shira’s bird is that it admits her powerful imagination (and her mother’s) into their horror-filled situation. I believe that much survival occurred because people kept alive their imaginations (their artistry, their poetry, etc) and stayed aware of what beauty they could find in their circumstances.

Q:  Can you share with us why you were interested in writing about a mom having to keep her child silent?

A:  The seed for this story came years ago when I was at a book event for my memoir about deafness. (If A Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard) . My daughters were born deaf. With hearing technology (cochlear implants and hearing aids), they were learning to listen and talk and I was describing our efforts as we encouraged them to vocalize. After the book talk, a woman from the audience came up to me. She told me about her childhood experience, hiding in an attic with her mother during WW2. She had to stay entirely silent. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for her, and also her mother. While I so wanted our daughters to speak, this mother had to keep her young child from making any sound at all. From this seed, my novel grew.

Q:  You do a beautiful job keeping the reader engaged, giving just enough in each chapter to motivate us to tackle the next.  Once the story splits into two when Rosa and Shira go their separate ways, did you write the book in the order that we read it, or did you write one character’s story and then the other’s? 

A:  In later drafts, I wrote the chapters mostly in the order they appear. However, earlier in the process, I wrote out long swaths of each character’s story trajectory, to understand where they were going and how their stories might dovetail. There was a lot of cutting and reworking!

Q:  What kind of research did you do for the book? How long did it take to write?

A:  While I was writing the book, I interviewed several “hidden children”— adults who, as children during the war, were secreted in attics, barns, and the woods.  I also traveled to the settings of my novel. In Poland I visited areas of countryside with barns much like the one I’ve written about; I  visited a convent where Jewish children were hidden; and I went to a swath of deep forest where a Partisan/family camp was formed.

I consulted with experts on Holocaust history and convent life. I talked to a tracker to learn how my character could traverse the forest without leaving a trace. A Polish translator, also a mushroom forager, advised me on which mushrooms my character might find in the woods!  And I consulted with a musicologist and a master class violinist, as I sought to discover how a prodigy like Shira would practice; how she would progress, what she would play.  It took years to conceive of and to write this novel, and many many drafts.

Q:  When Shira plays Kaddish on her violin, my thoughts went to the Mourner’s Kaddish and my heart breaks for her and the loss of her mother.  Music invokes so much emotion, personal to each of us.   How did you choose the musical pieces you refer to in the book?

A:  Yes, Ravel’s Kaddish is haunting and evocative, and I chose it for Shira to play as a mourning piece for her mother.  

Generally speaking, I listened to a LOT of music before choosing pieces; I waned to make sure each one contributed to the story, and that it would fit Shira’s circumstance and her level of play.  As I mentioned, I consulted with musical experts.

Poland in winter

Q:  It amazed me how long Roza and others lasted living in the forest in Poland.  We are always looking for a parking spot closest to where we are headed so we don’t have to walk an extra step, and these people walked miles and miles, with little food and shelter, and lived outside in the elements for weeks, months and years!  How did you learn about the resistance camps and why did you choose to set your story in Poland?

A:  I learned about the Jewish Partisans years ago from a friend who is a documentary filmmaker. (Julia Mintz is a producer/director/writer and her film is The Jewish Partisans.) When it came to researching my novel, I went to an area of Polish forest—in winter—to understand what it would be like for my character!  I read innumerable accounts of people hiding in wooded camps, as families and as Partisans. We can’t overestimate the ingenuity, strength, and perseverance they brought to their survival.

Q:  You have received praise for the cover of your book; can you tell us about it?

A:  The brilliant art director at Flatiron developed the cover. He based it on a torn photograph, signaling that something is torn in the story. (The Picador UK cover, wildly different, is also wonderful; it suggest elements of an enchanted garden floating out from a barn window.)

Q:  What have you read lately that you recommend?

A:  On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong — it is astonishing.

Other books I’ve recently read and loved:

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

Q:  Are you going on book tour and where can we expect to see you? 

A:  Yes, I will be scheduling events, starting with a book launch on my publication date, March 3, 2020. I will keep an events list running on my website (www.jennifer-rosner.com) and would be happy to receive invitations to read, to attend book clubs, etc!

Q:  Are you working on a new book yet? 

A:  I have just begun a new novel – but it’s too preliminary to describe! Stay tuned.

Goodreads Summary

Jennifer Rosner

About the Author:

Jennifer Rosner is the author of the novel The Yellow Bird Sings and the memoir If A Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard. Her children’s book, The Mitten String, is a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable. Jennifer’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Massachusetts Review, The Forward, Good Housekeeping, and elsewhere. She lives in western Massachusetts with her family.

And There’s More…!

Don’t miss Jennifer Rosner’s memoir:

If A Tree Falls by Jennifer Rosner

If A Tree Falls

Jennifer Rosner’s revelatory memoir explores family, silence, and what it means to be heard. When her daughters are born deaf, Rosner is stunned. Then, she discovers a hidden history of deafness in her family, going back generations to the Jewish enclaves of Eastern Europe. Traveling back in time, she imagines her silent relatives, who showed surprising creativity in dealing with a world that preferred to ignore them.

Rosner shares her journey into the modern world of deafness, and the controversial decisions she and her husband have made about hearing aids, cochlear implants and sign language. An imaginative odyssey, punctuated by memories of going unheard, Rosner’s story of her daughters’ deafness is at heart a story of whether she – a mother with perfect hearing – will hear her children.

If a Tree Falls is a poignant meditation on life’s most unpredictable moments, as well as the delights and triumphs hidden within them.

 

To order Jennifer Rosner’s novel, memoir and/or children’s book, click below.

The Yellow Bird Sings

If A Tree Falls

The Mitten String

Memories of the Past, a Vision to the Future, and the Power of Music Join Together in this Magical Wartime Love Story.

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In Another Time  by Jillian Cantor is a wonderful historical fiction novel with deep characters who love books, music and each other.

In 1930s Berlin, Max, a German bookshop owner sees Hanna playing what she loves most, the violin.  He is enchanted and in an attempt to get her attention, he brings her what he loves most, a book.  After his dedicated pursuit, he wins her over, and the relationship between the two blossoms. German life during the rise of Hitler is not easy and to make matters worse, because Max is not a Jew, Hanna’s family is not supportive.  Then Max has an unexplained disappearance which causes Hanna to be worried, angry and confused.   She steps back from their relationship for a time, but the love between them is powerful and eventually it draws them back together.  

Antisemitism is increasing in Germany and although Hanna, so focused on her violin playing, does not take much notice, Max worries about her and his Jewish friends.  Hitler and the Nazis are taking over, panic is starting to set in and his longtime Jewish neighbors are in terrible danger.  When Max sees them in distress he reaches out to offer help.  Max has a huge secret that he believes can save those in danger, but when his beloved Hanna is looking the Nazis in the eyes, can he bring her to safety?

In 1946 Hanna finds herself in an open field with her less than pristine violin and no memory of the recent past.  Hitler is dead, the train station has been bombed, she has no idea what happened to Max, and she has lost her memory of the last 10 years of her life.  Hanna’s sister comes to get her and bring her back to her home in London where she searches for opportunities to play her trusted violin in an orchestra.  Her love for music and Max are the only things she remembers and without him she focuses on playing violin to bring peace and joy to her life, and to give her a purpose.  Will Hanna and Max cross paths again?  In Another Time is a heartbreaking story of love, and survival in difficult times, and the ability to learn the truth.

I enjoy narration by two characters alternating chapters as it is easy to read and it compels me to read just one more chapter, and then just one more, always wanting to know what is going to happen next…Jillian Cantor created interesting characters and I get immersed in her writing with the World War ll setting,  appreciative for the research involved in historical fiction.  I adored The Lost Letter published 2017, and I highly recommend In Another Time too!

Q & A With Jillian Cantor

Tell us a little bit about In Another Time.

In Another Time is the story of Max, a German bookshop owner, and Hanna, a Jewish violin prodigy, who fall in love in the 1930s outside of Berlin as Hitler is rising to power. Max narrates the story in the 1930s, before the war, and Hanna narrates beginning in 1946, after the war, when she wakes up in a field with only her violin, no memory of the past ten years, and no idea what happened to Max. Max’s story moves through the 1930s as Hanna’s moves through the 1940s and 50s. I wanted it to be a love story between Max and Hanna but also a love song to books and music in our most trying times.

When I learned about Max’s huge secret, the special closet door in his bookshop, it first made me think of the novel Exit West where Mohsin Hamid wrote about doors people went through to get to other countries.  He mostly used it as a metaphor for immigration, allowing him not to have to focus on the physical journey. In In Another Time, I was unprepared for the magical time travel that happened in the closet but was pleasantly surprised.  Unexplainable, supernatural elements like this are not often used in historical fiction.  How did you come up with the idea?

I really wanted to explore the question of what made people leave, or not leave, Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the lead up to WWII. I spoke with a Holocaust survivor who’d been a young Jewish girl in Berlin at the time. She said her parents refused to leave, saying it was their country too. They were Germans too. So I thought a lot about what it means to love your country, and feel allegiance to your country even if terrible things start happening. And how hard it would’ve been to fathom how horrible everything would eventually get if you were living there in those years. The question I set out to answer before I even sat down to write the book was, what if you had every way and means possible to leave, even a magical escape, would you still want to stay? 

I just accepted the magic and immersed myself in the lives of the wonderful characters, Hanna and Max.  Did you ever consider explaining more of the details regarding time traveling through the closet?  How did you decide what to explain and what to leave unsaid?

I definitely don’t see this a science fiction novel in any way, even though time travel does play a small role, like you said. So I never wanted to get bogged down in the details of how it worked. And Max is a bookshop owner, a reader, not a scientist, so I didn’t believe as a character he would get bogged down in these details either. My goal was to explain enough to make the plot and Max’s actions make sense, but not too much where the book became more science fiction than historical fiction. 

Your novel has Max’s story and Hanna’s story each from their own perspective. Did you write them alternating chapters like we read them, or did you create each character’s narrative separately?

  I wrote them exactly in the order that you read them, as they appear in the book now, alternating chapters. It did get a little confusing, and at a certain point as I was drafting (about 100 pages in) I stopped, and made a giant chart on the wall of my office to keep track of where each character was in each year, how old each was, etc.! But I felt I needed to write the book the way it would eventually read so I could get the pacing and the story arc right in the first draft. When I went back and revised, however, I did pull each story out and revise each one separately to make sure it was all coherent and made sense in order. 

All the chapters are narrated by Max or Hanna except for one. Why did Elsa have her own chapter?

Elsa is married to Max’s best friend, Johann, and she has a small but important role in the novel. The chapter she narrates allowed me to give the reader information that neither Max nor Hanna could’ve known.

What are you reading now (if you even have time) and what do you recommend?

I’m reading a lot of research for the next novel I’m writing right now! But I have a giant to-read pile sitting on my desk that I plan to get to once I finish drafting my next book: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff, The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer, Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce, and The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer, just to name a few. One upcoming historical novel that I got to read early, and that I highly recommend, is The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar. It’s out in July – look out for it!

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Music did actually keep people safe during World War ll; here is a video that tells a story of a woman who survived Auschwitz.

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If you would like to hear some orchestra music, here is a clip from my teenage son’s most recent concert with the NORWALK YOUTH SYMPHONY .

According to Google:  Listening to music can help reduce stress according to many studies. It can help relieve a person from anxiety, depression, and other emotional and mental problems. Music is also capable of eliminating physical exhaustion as it allows the body and mind to relax.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from The University of Arizona. She is the USA Today bestselling author of THE LOST LETTER, THE HOURS COUNT, MARGOT, and, most recently, IN ANOTHER TIME, which is a March 2019 Indie Next pick. Her work has been translated into 10 languages, and has been featured as a Library Reads pick, and in People Magazine, O the Oprah Magazine, Glamour, and PopSugar among others. Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Jillian currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

 

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel

My Review:

The Ensemble is a great summer read – a wonderful debut about four quartet musicians and their lives together from right out of school to adulthood – what they gave up and what they earned, the love they developed and the family they created. The Van Ness Quartet consists of Jana, first violinist and leader, Brit, the quiet, second violinist, Daniel the older cellist and playboy, and Henry the violist prodigy.  Author Aja Gabel skillfully links them together by their shared musical experiences, emotional connections and their intertwined lives.

Through musical and personal challenges, emotional and physical relationships and breakups, private and career successes and failures, this foursome grows into their own as individual musicians and human beings as well as a group, making beautiful music together that just gets richer with age.  These friends and music partners experience harmonious relationships along with plenty of friction, but they are committed to their craft and each other to live the lives of professional musicians…together.

This book gives us an inside look at what it is like to be a classical musician and play in a quartet for 20 years…a wonderful story – very enjoyable!

Goodreads Summary

Aja Gabel

About the author:

Aja Gabel’s debut novel, The Ensemble, was published May 15, 2018 by Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House.

Aja’s short fiction can be found in New England Review, New Ohio Review, Glimmer Train, BOMB, and elsewhere. Her lyric essay, “The Sparrows in France,” appeared in Kenyon Review and earned her an honorable mention in Best American Essays 2015. She has taught fiction, non-fiction, and literature at the University of Virginia, the University of Houston, Sweet Briar College, and Pacific University, as well as at undergraduate creative writing conferences and community workshop organizations. She earned her BA at Wesleyan University, her MFA at the University of Virginia and has a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston.

Aja has been the recipient of awards from Atlantic Monthly and Inprint, as well as fellowships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where she was a fellow in fiction 2012-2013.

She lives in Los Angeles with her dog, Bear.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

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My Review:

If you love the 80s, music, tradition, England and love, you will want to read The Music Shop right away!  Frank had an odd childhood; growing up he called his single mother by her first name and, the only thing his not so nurturing, nontraditional mom ever taught him about was music.  Now, a single man outside of London, Frank owns a small music shop on a run down street.  He only sells vinyl records; refuses to keep up with the times and offer cds or even cassette tapes.  He has given up on the possibility for love and seems content in his role in life as a music expert. Frank matches customers and friends to songs he thinks they need to know.  He is quirky and old fashioned, but likable and has a reputation for being a good man and helping lots of people.

One day a beautiful, mysterious woman shows up at his shop
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