Violin Lessons

Violin Lessons

Arnold Zable, The Text Publishing Company

The genius of Violin Lessons is how it breathes life into characters its author Arnold Zable met in his travels over four decades — people whose lives were indelibly reshaped by some of the worst wars of the last 100 years.

These people include guest workers picking apples in orchards above Lake Geneva, Polish resistance fighters,USsoldiers contemplating desertion towards the end of the Vietnam War, Holocaust survivors, a Venetian hotelier whose father “converting to Catholism” meant his Jewish family were not rounded up and deported. There’s also the story of Amal, a refugee fromIraq, who survived the SievX sinking — so you see what I mean!

Their stories are candid, moving and illuminating. And they sing off the page with their desire to be heardand understood. Music and musical instruments weave them together — as does an underlying hope that their telling might mean the bloodiest and cruellest incidents in them will not be repeated.

Stories might seem like weak weapons in the face of — to pick the most vivid example — the 14 million unarmed people murdered inEurope’s borderlands between 1933 and 1945. However, in Zable’s hands, words and stories are swords turned into ploughshares; tools to help his readers see how human rights and the way people live and advocate for others matters.

“What did the camps teach us?” Phillip (a Holocaust survivor) asks in one of the ten stories. What was learned, he says, was, “The basic difference between right and wrong. The good people become better and, unfortunately, the bad become worse. The strongest impulse is a person’s will to survive. Then it is important how you survive. And how you survive determines what sort of person you are.”

Zable’s four grandparents were victims of Nazi genocide (two shot, two gassed) as were many of their children and extended families. Zable is also president of the International PEN, Melbourne, which fights for authors who are persecuted in places where free speech is denied. Its members commit to dispel race, class and national hatreds, and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world.

Violin Lessons offers an absorbing means to face history and engage in ethical reflection. One character talks of being “an accomplice in an act of restoration”; which is a great way to describe Zable’s efforts in this readable and captivating book.

Read it and pass it on with his hope that stories — and the way they’re conveyed — can dissolve hatred and make a difference.

Marjorie Lewis-Jones

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