I am really excited to review The Butterfly and the Violin today. I have been wanting to read it for months now–ever since the lovely Carrie over @ Reading is my Superpower recommended it as one of her favorite WWII novels. Carrie is basically full of fantastic recommendations 🙂
A few initial thoughts:
- Why did I not know about this book before now? I feel like there are so many WWII novels but this one deserves a much higher place in the spotlight.
- I love the way we get such beautiful connections between love, God, and religion in this novel. More on these beautiful themes in a bit.
- I also really love how we get happily ever after. Sometimes, WWII novels can be so moving but also end rather sadly. I appreciated the positive ending.
- Also the change of perspective and time is really fun!
The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron follows the dual stories of Adele Von Bron and Sera James–two women living 70 years apart but whose stories are more tied together than they expect. Adele is a violinist in Vienna during WWII. When she is arrested and sent to a concentration camp for helping Jews escape the city, she must find strength, courage, love, and beauty in the dark corners of Auschwitz. Sera is a New York art dealer who has dedicated years of her life to discovering the original painting of a young woman with a violin in a concentration camp–Adele. As Sera continues to search for the painting, she crosses paths with William Hanover,heir to a large family fortune and also connected to Adele’s story. As we search for the original painting with Sera, we also gain additional insights into Adele’s past, her passionate love for Vladimir, and her incredible journey to survive for love, beauty, and God.
It’s hard to decide which protagonist I enjoyed more. Initially, it was Adele’s story and her choice to help others despite her position and the risks. But I was later drawn into Sera’s past and growth as the story progressed. Overall, I loved the dual perspective of the novel. In fact, the perspectives are what got me hooked on the story. I had to keep reading chapter after chapter to get back to Adele’s story–only to be pulled into Sera’s and need to return to hers. It was an excellent way to excite readers about the novel. Cambron writes beautifully from both perspectives, and I found myself drawn into their stories and rooting for them in their challenges and triumphs. Both women had to overcome a lot (albeit, in very different situations) to find inner peace and happiness. I appreciated the way that they both had to turn to God and to love in order to find that peace.
I think the multiple perspectives gave the novel a neat plot as well. The perspectives act as plot twists and cliffhangers throughout the novel. Again, I was constantly continuing to the next chapter to discover more about a small detail given at the end of the previous chapter. We slowly gather more details about Adele’s fate and Sera’s past as the novel progresses. I loved how we would see Vladimir and Adele together and then Sera discovers a picture of Vladimir. Or when Sera talks about a trip Adele took to Germany before the war and then we get the firsthand account of the war from Adele’s perspective. Best of all is the perspectives about the painting and how we get to see it’s creation, Adele’s encounter with it, and Sera’s several defining experiences with the painting. It is a truly special story that can build two stories with equal depth and beauty.
Speaking of beauty, I absolutely adored the themes of beauty, religion, and peace in this novel. Both women go on incredible journeys to find beauty, God, and peace in difficult situations and places. Adele is forced to play in the Auschwitz prisoner orchestra, an organization that played at horrid events like selection for the gas chambers and beatings. She even had to play in front of Nazi officials and pretend nothing bad was happening in the camps. But she is able to find God in the darkness. And through God, she finds beauty–her relationship with fellow musicians, Vladimir, her music, and the painting. These small beauties sustain her and help her to survive. Sera is quite different. She was left at the alter a few years before so she does not let anyone get close to her–even God. It is through her relationship with William and her search for the painting that she can find what really matters to her. And the strength to let God and others in.
Because of these lovely themes, I want to share a few of my favorite quotes from the novel.
“You told me that I would have to play like I did in rehearsals–to feel the music, to let it float for my soul in honor to God. And we saw a butterfly. It was doing the same thing, floating around, dancing from perch to perch right here in our garden.”
The Butterfly and the Violin, page 50
The connection between history and art:
“I suppose it’s the great history of it all…to see that a piece of human expression is still alive in something that’s been left behind for us.”
The Butterfly and the Violin, page 88
And finding beauty and hope in the darkness of Auschwitz
“My dear child, this painting is how I see you. It’s how we all see you. Do you understand? There is still beauty left in the world. It is here.”
“…the god-worship of every life–this was the art of Auschwitz.”
The Butterfly and the Violin, pages 252 and 278
The title of the novel is so intriguing to me; it seems to have a lot of potential meaning. Certainly, Adele plays the violin so that is a potential connection. And Vladimir calls Adele “butterfly” and gives her a butterfly clip that is one of her most prized possessions in the concentration camp. But I think the meaning could be deeper. The violin can represent music which brings Adele peace, devotion to God, and creates beauty in dark places. The butterfly could represent the beauty of the painting–a light for people in various walks of life and in different times. Or it could represent the small beauties Adele found while in such horrible circumstances. Both seem to point to the idea that God and beauty can endure beyond darkness. That is a great comfort.
I don’t want to give away the ending. But again, I just loved that good triumphs over evil. And life over death. And true love over hate. Sera finds what she is looking for. And Adele survives. It’s a beautiful ending with an unexpected twist.
What should I add to my WWII reading list?
Besides the other hidden masterpiece novel by Kristy Cambron 🙂