After the Fire

After the Fire

by Lauren Belfer

Overview: The New York Times-bestselling author of A Fierce Radiance and City of Light returns with a new powerful and passionate novel—inspired by historical events—about two women, one European and one American, and the mysterious choral masterpiece by Johann Sebastian Bach that changes both their lives.

In the ruins of Germany in 1945, at the end of World War II, American soldier Henry Sachs takes a souvenir, an old music manuscript, from a seemingly deserted mansion and mistakenly kills the girl who tries to stop him.

In America in 2010, Henry’s niece, Susanna Kessler, struggles to rebuild her life after she experiences a devastating act of violence on the streets of New York City. When Henry dies soon after, she uncovers the long-hidden music manuscript. She becomes determined to discover what it is and to return it to its rightful owner, a journey that will challenge her preconceptions about herself and her family’s history—and also offer her an opportunity to finally make peace with the past.

In Berlin, Germany, in 1783, amid the city’s glittering salons where aristocrats and commoners, Christians and Jews, mingle freely despite simmering anti-Semitism, Sara Itzig Levy, a renowned musician, conceals the manuscript of an anti-Jewish cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, an unsettling gift to her from Bach’s son, her teacher. This work and its disturbing message will haunt Sara and her family for generations to come.

Interweaving the stories of Susanna and Sara, and their families, And After the Fire traverses over two hundred years of history, from the eighteenth century through the Holocaust and into today, seamlessly melding past and present, real and imagined. Lauren Belfer’s deeply researched, evocative, and compelling narrative resonates with emotion and immediacy.

Janet Kolodner (05/22/18): I agree with Faith that this book is worth a 3. It is an easy read, and it is, in some ways, and exciting read, but, really, the main character is the manuscript, and the people are not very well drawn out. It didn't leave me wishing to continue living with the characters, and sometimes I couldn't understand why characters were doing the things they were doing or reacting the way they were. For a good Jewish-themed historical novel, I much preferred Eternal Life and The Weight of Ink.
Rating: ***

Faith Bowers (05/14/18): Our book club discussed this amazing historical fiction in last week. As well as it is the Philadelphia Jewish Federation book to read of the year. We all liked the book and discussion flowed.

It is about music, anti semitism, Bach family employment for the antisemitic Lutheran church is the 17th and 17th centuries. It’s about rich Jewish German banking and musical families of the 18th and 19th centuries and it is also about the Holocaust.

Belfer has written a great book by putting all these historical influences and events together. The modern part of search for provenance of the JS Bach artifact while we are reading about the provenance is well done. There is also romance though you may root for the other man. Though it is a long novel it is an easy read.
Rating: ***

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