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Play to the Angel


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Gr 5-8-Dahlberg's first novel examines the beginnings of the Holocaust in Vienna through the eyes of a 12-year-old aspiring concert pianist. Greta's father left the family when she was three, and her brother, a promising concert pianist with hemophilia, has recently died. In the shadow of an increasingly dangerous Nazi Germany, Greta lives with her mother, a dress designer working for a Jew. Grieving and worried about finances, the woman ignores her daughter and seems painfully unaware of her musical dreams. Greta is devastated by her mother's plan to sell their piano, until a new neighbor with a mysterious past agrees to give the girl free lessons and convinces her to keep it. When she eventually discovers that her beloved teacher is actually Karl von Engelhart, a renowned pianist who used his fortune to help Jewish artists leave Germany, Greta helps him flee to Prague. Dahlberg re-creates the time and place aptly, touching on the economic climate and recounting the infiltration of Nazism into Austria. Meanwhile, the narrative incorporates the protagonist's worries about not having a best friend and purchasing her first bra, missing her brother, and longing for her mother's attention. While the unusual Holocaust setting is well drawn and rings true, Angel is first and foremost a novel about a girl who pursues a dream and learns to believe in herself.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Greta Radky, the 12-year-old heroine of this historical novel, has much to contend with: a burning desire to play the piano, like her recently deceased brother, Kurt; a widowed mother who, in her grief over Kurt's death, cannot bear to hear Greta even talk about music; and the recent move of her best friend, Erika, from their Viennese neighborhood to the U.S. As the story opens, in February 1938, Frau Radky precipitates a crisis by announcing her plans to sell Kurt's piano. As chance would have it, a piano teacher from Germany has moved into Erika's apartment, and his enthusiastic support gives Greta the confidence to persuade her mother to keep the piano. Greta knows that Herr Hummel, the piano teacher, has had to flee the Nazis; what she does not know, of course, is that Hitler will annex Austria within the month. When the SS come looking for Herr Hummel, he owes his escape as much to Greta's quick thinking and courage as to luck. First-novelist Dahlberg offers memorable passages about music and musicianship, and her plotting is solid. But some key characterizations (e.g., of Greta's mother) are unconvincing and the setting feels thin, especially in comparison with a book like Doris Orgel's The Devil in Vienna, which also takes place during the Anschluss. Although Dahlberg shows promise, this effort doesn't quite come to life. Ages 9-12. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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