And After the Fire
It’s May 1945, and a pair of American GIs in occupied Germany find themselves at what appears to be an abandoned estate. When they enter, they discover a resident, reduced to burning valuable books for fuel. Within an hour, the resident is dead and the GIs are speeding back to their camp, a few souvenirs in their rucksacks.
So begins And After the Fire (Harper, 2016), the new book from bestselling author Lauren Belfer, whose previous forays into historical fiction include City of Light and A Fierce Radiance. Through the independent but intertwined stories of Susanna Kessler and Sara Levy, Belfer’s third novel explores, among other things, the long history of antisemitism in Europe, beginning in late eighteenth-century Berlin and ending in twenty-first-century Manhattan. The link between Susanna, Sara, and the fleeing GIs is a previously undiscovered cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, hidden for three centuries because of its offensive and inflammatory libretto.
Bach’s missing cantata is fictional, but the questions it raises are very much part of today’s headlines. How do we deal with the reality that greatness and intolerance can exist side by side? How do we cope with the unpleasant relics of our own past? For this reason and for its compelling portrayal of Susanna and Sara, so alike yet so different, in part because of the times in which they live And After the Fire is a novel not to be missed.
C. P. Lesley is the author of six novels, including Legends of the Five Directions (The Golden Lynx, The Winged Horse, and The Swan Princess), a historical fiction series set in 1530s Russia, during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Find out more about her at http://www.cplesley.com.