After reading The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert, I came across the description for Linda Kass’ upcoming novel, Tasa’s Song and found it intriguing enough to request to preview the book. Like The Girl from the Train, Tasa’s Song takes place in eastern Poland during World War II and involves the impact of the Soviets and communism on the Polish people as the war progresses. Where The Girl from the Train looked at adopted families, Tasa’s Song looks more at the close ties that can develop between members of an extended family; where The Girl from the Train looked at words and language and their connection to one’s spirit and identity, Tasa’s Song looks at those same things through music.
Tasa—short for Anastasia—is from a wealthy and prominent Polish Jewish family in a rural area of Poland. She and her cousin, Danik—with whom she grew up and continues to develop a specifically close relationship to—board in a larger city to attend a private school. Tasa began learning violin from her grandfather and the instrument and music become a key part of how she interacts with the world around her. Moments—particularly of high emotion—become associated with certain pieces of music or movements within larger pieces. Playing those pieces proves to be an integral part of coping with the increasing uncertainties and terrors surrounding her as she, her family, and her friends become stranded between the advancing Nazi forces and the Soviets who took over eastern Poland at the outset of the war.
The description of the book led me to believe that most of the book would be focused on the way that music helped Tasa to cope with the war and it’s aftermath. However, the book—after the prologue set in 1943—jumps to Tasa’s adolescent life in the 1930’s so that the reader sees snippets from the years leading up to the war and Tasa’s family going into hiding. It occurred to me as I realized how little of the book would actually deal with the aftermath of the war that there are really very few novels—at least that I’ve encountered—that examine those years immediately following the end of World War II from the perspective of the European Jews who survived. And while I was disappointed that more of Tasa’s Song wasn’t centered on that part of the character’s story, it actually does a far better job of examining that time than pretty much anything I’ve read before.
So often—and it is the case with the beginning of Tasa’s Song—novels about this period of history examine the years leading up to the war and the questions of just how the Nazis were able to take power to the extent that they did, how they were able to accomplish the atrocities they managed without raising people against them sooner. In many instances, these novels focus on the trials associated with living in hiding, borrowing from narratives like The Diary of Anne Frank. But they also usually end with the war’s end, the characters having survived to be liberated and see Hitler dead. The Girl from the Train and Tasa’s Song both look at what happened to survivors after the war—to the way people were separated anew and/or the difficulties of relocating the people they’d become separated from during the war. As the aftermath was just as rife with political tensions amongst the vastly different Allied nations involved, I wish there were more novels that explored this post-war period of time in Europe.
What Tasa’s Song does best is incorporate Tasa’s relationship with classical music. At the end of the book is a playlist of sorts that lists the various pieces that Tasa describes, plays, and relates to throughout the book with the list broken down by the chapter in which it occurs. I wish I’d skipped ahead to find that list ahead of time so that I could look up the pieces I was less familiar with and listen to them in conjunction with reading the passages where they featured. For those I was already familiar with, the descriptions and the ‘how’s of why Tasa’s mind goes to those pieces at those moments are beautifully clear and certainly adds to Tasa’s character and how she comes to life. As much as she enjoys and appreciates music, given the depths of her relationship with it, I’m a little surprised there isn’t more time spent on what Tasa might like to do with her playing in the future—it makes sense that such plans would take a back seat during the war, but even in the early years there are no hints at what kind of career she might aspire to or even if she aspires to a career in music at all.
Tasa’s Song by Linda Kass will be available for purchase beginning May 3, 2016.