A Mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz–and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan. Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl–a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes. In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover–the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul–who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting’s subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron. A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire. As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: the grim camps of Auschwitz and the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.
For more than two years, Sera James has lived a half-life. Sure, her Manhattan gallery is doing well and her assistant is top-notch but there is something missing from Sera’s life. After being abandoned at the altar, Sera has closed off her heart to anything and anyone that doesn’t involve her work. Her passion is her work and one particular painting has held her interest since she was a child. As an art dealer/gallery owner, Sera is in a unique position to track down the one painting that has eluded her for years. Sera’s search takes her to William Hanover’s doorstep and the journey the two embark on to unravel the mystery of the painting is steeped in history, sorrow and, unbelievably, hope.
In 1942, Adele was many things: the daughter of a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Austria’s premiere violinist, a young woman in love and, a dissident determined to help Jews safely escape Austria. In so many ways, Adele is protected by her father’s position and her position as a professional musician and this not only emboldens her but creates a false sense of security. As such, Adele follows her love into the night and on a perilous mission to evacuate a Jewish family; the mission ends in tragedy and exposes Adele and her actions to both the authorities and her father. Sure her father will protect her, Adele is shocked when her family turns their backs on her and allows her to be taken into custody. Even more shocking is the realization that Adele will not just be slapped on the wrist and allowed to go back to her family but sent to Auschwitz. Though she is justifiably terrified, Adele is naively certain her punishment will be short-lived since she is not a Jew. Adele’s train ride to Auschwitz is just the beginning of the horrors she will experience until both she and Auschwitz are liberated by the Allies in 1945.
Immediately upon her arrival at Auschwitz, a completely terrified Adele is forced to play in order to prove her ability and determine her placement within the camp. Adele’s innate skill comes to her aide and she is, in turn taken to a small building where she will become one of many members of the Auschwitz orchestra. For much of her life, Adele has found comfort in her abilities and her music but at Auschwitz, all she has always held dear is warped and ugly and used to terrible ends. Adele and her musical companions are forced, on a daily basis to play as new prisoners are marched into the camp from the trains, herded to their daily labors or, led to their death in the gas chambers. Though the orchestra is afford more comfort than most in the camp, their lives are still abysmal, their fear is palpable and, each abhors what something so beautiful has been turned into by the evil that rules their world.
Throughout her years at Auschwitz, Adele is horrified by the tortures she both witnesses and endures. She plays on as innocents are starved to death, tortured and, executed. She fears for her life every second of every day and knows that it is her ability to play that keeps her alive and so, she plays on. Despite all of the horror, there are moments of hope amid the despair like the time Adele is shown the hiding place of the beautiful works created in secret by camp members. Among the secreted works are of passages of literature and art including a portrait of Adele painted by one of the orchestra members. Those these treasures are certainly bright spots and reminders of what once was for so many, they are also secrets that must be closely guarded and protected at all costs. After the fall of the Nazi regime, the fate of these treasures was tracked almost as closely as the fate of the survivors.
Since her childhood, Sera has been obsessed with finding out the fate of the portrait and with the help of William, they not only track down the original work but discover the fate of Adele, her love and, the family the two attempted to help escape that fateful night so many decades ago. During the process of tracing Adele’s life and the fate of painting, William and Sera discover a true and abiding love for one another that is strengthened by their faith in God and Adele’s story. Each understands that the unfolding of Adele’s story, her fate and the fate of her portrait is of the utmost significance and to be a part of the discovery is a gift.
The Bottom Line: The Butterfly and the Violin is a tragically beautiful piece of historical fiction. The novel shifts from chapter to chapter between the past and the present with Adele recounting her own story as William and Sera piece together the mystery of her life and her portrait. In truth, this haunting tale would have been just as good if it were simply Adele’s story and there was shifting between the past and the present. Sure, William and Sera’s story is interesting but it is Adele and her story that are the most gripping. There is nothing light or easy about this read; this is, well and truly a horror story played out in real life. Cambron does a fantastic job of dealing with truly tragic events in both an objective and sensitive manner. Cambron doesn’t sugar coat anything but she also doesn’t glamorize the events, she weaves a tale that is as terrifying as it is interesting. Cambron’s writing style enhances the read and moves the story along smoothly and easily. In all, The Butterfly and the Violin is a thoroughly consuming read that will most certainly appeal to a wide variety of readers and in particular, those interested in historical fiction.
P.S. Shortly after I finished this read, I went to Amazon and pre-ordered book two in the A Hidden Masterpiece series, A Sparrow in Terezin which is due in April 2015.
Kristy’s been fascinated with the WWII Era since hearing her grandfather’s stories of his experiences as a B-17 co-pilot in the war. She writes WWII and Regency Era historical Christian fiction titles. THE BUTTERFLY AND THE VIOLIN, Book One in the ‘A Hidden Masterpiece’ series on the prisoner camp art of Auschwitz, will release from Thomas Nelson Publishers in July, 2014.
She’s a proud Hoosier, living in Indiana with her husband and three football-loving sons, where she can probably be bribed with a coconut mocha latte and a good Christian fiction read.