J SS Bach is the story of three generations of women from either side of Germany’s 20th Century horror story – one side, a Jewish family from Vienna, the other linked to a ranking Nazi official at Dachau concentration camp – who suffer the consequences of what men do. Fast forward to 1990s California, and two survivors from the families meet. Rosa is a young Australian musicologist; Otto is a world-famous composer and cellist. Music and history link them. A novel of music, the Holocaust, love, and a dog. The author’s writing is a wonderland, captivating and drawing the reader in to the presented world. Time becomes no object as a literary universe unfolds and carries the reader through eighty years, where emotions are real and raw and beautifully given.
Martin Goodman was born in Leicester, and has lived and worked in China, Qatar, the USA, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and France. Travel forms a large part of his writing: both for strictly travel-related books and also for novels and biographies. His first novel ON BENDED KNEES was shortlisted for the Whitbread prize, and his most recent biography SUFFER AND SURVIVE won 1st Prize, Basis of Medicine in the BMA Book Awards 2008. He is the Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Hull. He lives in Hull, London and the French Pyrenees. ‘Such narrow, narrow confines we live in. Every so often, one of us primates escapes these dimensions, as Martin Goodman did. All we can do is rattle the bars and look after him as he runs into the hills. We wait for his letters home.’ ~ The Los Angeles Times
I struggled to get into this book, which opens with the character of Katja in Australia after the war. She’s unrepentant about her role, her husband was the adjutant of Dachau concentration camp. I really didn’t find her likeable.
Once Otto enters the narrative I found it easier to read. He’s clearly the more sympathetic figure – a Jewish teenager, a talented cellist. The plot follows him to Dachau, to meeting Katja and then to Canada as a refugee.
Years later Rosa tracks him down in his California isolation, a famous composer, and interviews him with the intention of writing a biography. Or perhaps to learn about her own family past.
This is incredibly well written and very moving at times. Highlighting a single story of one person’s survival of the horrors of the Holocaust and the deep emotional damage done to him.
*this book was gifted to me in exchange in taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.