Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Sound of Freedom by Kathy Kacer

It's 1936, and, for Anna Hirsch, a 12-year-old Jewish girl living in Krakow, Poland, life revolves around school, her best friend, playing her clarinet, and home. Anna's father, Avrum Hirsch, is a music teacher and a well-known clarinetist, playing in the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra, and Baba, her grandmother, has been living with and caring for the family since Anna's mother passed away. Now, however, anti-Semitism is on the rise in Poland, thanks to Hitler's influence, and Anna's happy, secure life is beginning to crumble.

After learning that her best friend is leaving for Denmark with her family to escape the unpleasant and often dangerous treatment of Polish Jews, and after witnessing violence against a Jewish butcher, Mr. Kaplansky, Anna also no longer feels safe living in Poland. So when her father tells her that he had read that the famous musician Bronislaw Huberman was coming to Poland to begin forming an orchestra that would be situated in the British Mandate Palestine and made up of only Jewish musicians who would receive exit visas for themselves and their families, Anna knew her father needed to audition for it.

The only problem is that Papa refuses to uproot his family, believing that they were not in an danger in Poland. But after witnessing an even more violent attack on Mr. Kaplansky, and after she and her father are almost attacked at his office, Anna and Baba decide to write to Mr. Huberman, requesting an audition - behind Papa's back. When the letter came, inviting him to audition, Papa and Anna travel to Warsaw for it. There, she meets Eric Sobol, an energetic boy whose father plays the trumpet and is also auditioning. The two hang out together, and Anna hopes that both father's are accepted into the new orchestra.

A letter finally arrives offering Anna's father a seat in the new orchestra, but their leaving is fraught with all kinds of delays and setbacks. The trip to Palestine is long and when they finally board the ship that will take them to Haifa, Anna is happy to see Eric there. After arriving in Palestine, the two friends discover they will now be neighbors in Tel Aviv and go to the same school, and both discover that life in Palestine isn't going to be easy for a while. There is the ongoing conflict between the Jews, the British, and the Arabs, learning Hebrew isn't all that easy, and Anna's beloved clarinet, the one her mother gave her, is lost. But life is also exciting. Mr. Huberman allows Anna to attend rehearsals whenever she wants, and often chats with her when she does show up. And the first concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Arutro Toscanini, who proves to be quite a hard taskmaster at best.

Then Mr. Huberman tells Anna he would like her to stop by is office, but about what could he possibly want to speak to her?

The Sound of Freedom is based on the actual events surrounding the formation of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra by Bronislaw Huberman, though the story about Anna and her family is completely fictional. But Kacer seamlessly and realistically weaves in the kinds of events and issues there were happening in Krakow into Anna's story, along with the fear she felt while traveling through Poland, Germany and Italy in 1936 and the difficulties adjusting to life in a new country.

There aren't all that many books that take place in Europe the mid-1930s, at time when crimes and restrictions directed at Jews were on the rise, but before the Final Solution actively began in full force. That makes this an important addition to Holocaust literature for young readers showing them just how things evolved into WWII and the Shoah. People always ask why didn't more Jews leave Europe as life became more and more difficult for Jews and Kacer addresses that, showing how many people, including Anna's father, really felt that things would eventually blow over and life would return to normal. In fact, that belief was so strong that some of her characters, like their real-life counterparts, returned to Europe when they found adjusting to Palestine too difficult.

The Sound of Freedom is an interesting coming of age novel, well-written, and well researched. Anna is a compelling character as we watch her innocence replaced by an acute awareness of what is happening around her, despite her father's attempts to shield her from it. Kacer descriptions aren't so graphic that they will scare younger readers, but they do convey the pain and humiliation that was inflicted on the Jewish people by followers of Hitler in realistic terms. And I think this novel will really resonate for today's readers.

It's always hard to read about anything related to the Holocaust, but Anna's story is one with a relatively good ending for her and her family., all the more so because of it is based in reality.

Arturo Toscanini and Bronislaw Huberman after the first concert
of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra December 1936
You can find out more about the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (later renamed the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), Bronislaw Huberman and Arturo Toscanini HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was provided to me by the publisher, Annick Press

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