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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Mozart Question, written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman.

"It's taken me more than a
year to persuade his to do it.
It'll be his first interview in
years. And even then I had to
agree not to ask him the Mozart
question. So don't ask him the
Mozart question, is that clear?
If you do he'll like as not cancel
the whole interview - he's done
it before."

It's Paulo Levi's fiftieth birthday and Lesley's chance to do the interview that so many have dreamed of doing. She can't believe her great good luck. She is given instructions about the Mozart question; and tells him that she knows she cannot ask it. As they talk, it is Paulo who wants to discuss it and to tell the truth about its origin - the time for his story is now.

In their home following the war, Paulo's parents have a beautiful violin that is never played. Paulo is not encouraged to study music; but he loves the violin and he wants to take lessons. Because of his determination, he arranges to take those lessons without his parents' knowledge. A chance meeting between his teacher and parents leads him to a harrowing discovery.

His Jewish parents were prisoners of war, and were forced to play Mozart concerts for the enemy. They also met the trains as they carried other Jews to the concentration camps, and were made to play for them to help calm them as they were herded to their death in the gas chambers. The realization that music was their only weapon, and that it was keeping them alive while others died was almost impossible to bear. Paulo's father had only one request of his son and his music...that he not play Mozart while his father lives as it is a gruesome reminder of what happened to so many.

As Lesley listens she begins to understand the true nature of the war, and the sacrifices made by so many in a time of horror and hardship. Paulo is able to share his story and to now add Mozart to the repertoire for his historic concert.

Michael Morpurgo is a skilled and admirable storyteller. The poignancy of Paulo's story is palpable in every well chosen word and phrase. If you haven't read any of his other books, find time to do so. You will not regret one minute spent with his amazing characters or his remarkable tales.

A picture book that I would recommend for its incredible impact in telling much the same story is The Harmonica by Tony Johnston (Charlesbridge, 2004). Beautifully told with exceptional illustrations, it is worthy of your attention.

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