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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Saving Mozart

Raphaël Jerusalmy

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To purchase Saving Mozart

Title: Saving Mozart
Author: Raphaël Jerusalmy
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 125 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Saving Mozart - US
Saving Mozart - UK
Saving Mozart - Canada
Sauver Mozart - Canada
Saving Mozart - India
Sauver Mozart - France
Salvare Mozart - Italia
  • The Diary of Otto J. Steiner
  • French title: Sauver Mozart
  • Translated by Howard Curtis

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Our Assessment:

B : solid novella of Nazi-opposition

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 25/5/2012 Marianne Payot
Financial Times . 20/12/2013 David Evans
L'Humanité . 10/5/2012 Jean-Claude Lebrun

  From the Reviews:
  • "C'est un (premier) roman choc, percutant, aussi intrigant que son auteur. (...) Avec son ton sobre, sarcastique et son rythme fiévreux, ce concerto à une voix est incontestablement une réussite." - Marianne Payot, L'Express

  • "This slender, confident debut novel is deliciously atmospheric and tense (.....) The narrative voice, sprinkled with dry aperçus, is nicely captured (...) if a little derivative of Dostoevskyís withered misanthropes." - David Evans, Financial Times

  • "C'est un régal de suivre jour après jour ce réfractaire silencieux aux allures de misanthrope." - Jean-Claude Lebrun, L'Humanité

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Raphaël Jerusalmy's novel, presented as the diary of music critic dying of tuberculosis in 1939-40 Salzburg, Austria, is very slim but comes with an ambitious title -- nothing less than Saving Mozart ! Diarist Otto J. Steiner, in a tuberculosis-sanatorium, finds:

I have nobody left. I live surrounded by dying men, bad tempered nurses, dashing soldiers, busy civilians, alone, in the wings. I'm not on stage anymore. Everything is gradually disappearing. And will never return.
       His family members have left Austria. Nominally Jewish -- but not even circumsised (he wouldn't have made it this far if he were) -- Steiner lives in some fear of the new authorities, but the disease eating at him is just as bad as the disease eating at society around him, both his tuberculosis and Nazism just different forms of death sentences. But, at least:
Music keeps me going. It is the only thing I have left.
       He actually has a decent support-network. There's Hans, who gets him concert-tickets and keeps him involved in aspects of the local music scene. There's the young couple renting his apartment -- sure, they fall behind in the rent, but they honestly try to do their best. And there are some workers at the sanatorium who help him out here and there.
       It is, of course, a time of terrible decline -- personal (health and wealth-wise), but also cultural, with the obscenity that is Nazism not only destroying the fabric of society but even messing with his beloved music. It's this that really gets to Steiner, especially as Salzburg is the site of the famous annual music festival:
The Nazis' meddling in the program for the Festspiele is intolerable. Revolting. Turning the Festival into a mere propaganda tool, an entertainment for the troops, is the last straw. Taking Mozart hostage. Demeaning him in that way. Isn't there anyone who can prevent such an outrage ?
     This time they've gone too far ! They can't be allowed to do such a thing. There has to be some way to react. This farce must be stopped. At all costs. Mozart must be saved !
       And if no one else can or will, well, then, it's up to Otto .....
       'Saving Mozart' is a lot to ask from anyone, and Steiner's small act of resistance hardly more than a symbolic pin-prick of annoyance to the Reich and its misbegotten ideology, but at least Jerusalmy doesn't make the book entirely about that. Indeed, it's the day-to-day misery of sanatorium life (and life under the Nazis in general) and the small upheavals -- deaths and investigations by the authorities -- that provide much of the substance of the story. A decent twist, too, is that Steiner gets a great opportunity for 'Saving Mozart' (and a whole lot more) by getting directly at the cancer -- an attempt that isn't so much thwarted as undone by unanticipated circumstances, something Steiner isn't really aware of at the time (though he should have had his suspicions), a devastating revelation that's exactly what one can expect in these times and this corrupted society.
       Steiner is no simple hero. He's all-too aware of his (imminent) mortality -- and it's not like that that really makes him willing to risk it all -- and he remains concerned with the small pleasures of life. He sends out for food from the black market when he can scrape together the money, and slips the cleaning woman a few banknotes to let him feel her up. Generally, he keeps his distance: there's too much death around him for him to allow himself to get too emotionally involved with anyone. He also knows (and acknowledges) others show more unselfish decency than he can muster.
       Saving Mozart is yet another story of the horrors of Nazism -- though largely only hinted at behind the surface-sheen of appearance that's visible to Steiner. The history is well-known, so the dying man's actions when Nazism is still on the rise -- Paris falls barely a month before the book's end -- can hardly be expected to be too momentous, but Jerusalmy offers a solid little addition to the huge library of books that have tackled these times and events.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 January 2014

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Saving Mozart: Reviews: Salzburg Festival: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French-writing author Raphaël Jerusalmy was born in 1954 and currently works as a bookseller in Israel.

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