Play to the Angels

Maurine Dahlberg, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $16 (192p) ISBN 978-0-374-35994-2
Greta Radky, the 12-year-old heroine of this historical novel, has much to contend with: a burning desire to play the piano, like her recently deceased brother, Kurt; a widowed mother who, in her grief over Kurt's death, cannot bear to hear Greta even talk about music; and the recent move of her best friend, Erika, from their Viennese neighborhood to the U.S. As the story opens, in February 1938, Frau Radky precipitates a crisis by announcing her plans to sell Kurt's piano. As chance would have it, a piano teacher from Germany has moved into Erika's apartment, and his enthusiastic support gives Greta the confidence to persuade her mother to keep the piano. Greta knows that Herr Hummel, the piano teacher, has had to flee the Nazis; what she does not know, of course, is that Hitler will annex Austria within the month. When the SS come looking for Herr Hummel, he owes his escape as much to Greta's quick thinking and courage as to luck. First-novelist Dahlberg offers memorable passages about music and musicianship, and her plotting is solid. But some key characterizations (e.g., of Greta's mother) are unconvincing and the setting feels thin, especially in comparison with a book like Doris Orgel's The Devil in Vienna, which also takes place during the Anschluss. Although Dahlberg shows promise, this effort doesn't quite come to life. Ages 9-12. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-14-230145-6
Prebound-Sewn - 185 pages - 978-0-606-24708-5
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