Beauty out of ugliness

A review of the novel “The Butterfly and the Violin” by Kristy Cambron

Sera James has spent the last two years searching for the painting of a beautiful girl with her violin, which was painted in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. When she finds a reproduction in the home of one William Hanover III (no less), she decides – against her better judgment – to join forces with him to find it, even though the Hanover family fortune could end up lost to the painting’s owner, according to the terms of William’s grandfather’s last will. Their search brings them more than they both bargained for, not the least of which is the story of the girl in the painting and the man she loved over 70 years ago.

There are thousands of novels about the Holocaust, many of which flash back and forth between that era and present day events. There are also many stories that include gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during that terrible time, some of whom end up in the camps themselves. I’m sure there are also some books that have characters that were the artistic pawns of the Nazi regime, playing music or creating pieces of art as good publicity for the camps. But as far as I know, there are few novels that bring all of these elements together, particularly where all of the major protagonists are non-Jews. This story is just that, and it was precisely this unusual conglomeration that drew me to this novel.
The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron (Cover courtesy of

On the one hand we have the young Adele Von Bron, a violin prodigy and Austria’s sweetheart, whose father is a high-ranking officer in Hitler’s army. Her love for Vladimir Nicolai, the handsome cellist in the Vienna Orchestra, leads her to learn about his underground work helping the last Jews of Vienna get out to safety. But when she joins him trying to save a Jewish family, they are caught and sentenced to “reeducation” at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Of course, the first thing that Adele learns is that her only hope to survive is to play in Birkenau’s newly formed women’s orchestra.

On the other hand we have Sera and William, two strangers in today’s world who are brought together in the search for a Holocaust era painting and its owner. Obviously, this part of the story also includes a bit of romance as an aside to their parallel/collaborative investigations. Interestingly enough, the major thing that connects all four of these characters is their devotion to their Christian faith.

Before I discuss this further, I want to note that I have the utmost appreciation and deepest admiration for the many brave righteous gentiles of WWII. I also fully acknowledge that the Nazis never intended to exterminate only Jews – they had many other “undesirables” on their lists, including no small number of upstanding Christians who did anything (no matter how small) to oppose them. Because of this, I feel that novels such as this one must be published and promoted as much as possible, and kudos to Cambron for writing it.

However, this book fell somewhat flat for me, as hard as that is to believe. We all know that the Holocaust is arguably the most emotionally charged event in known history, and any story that revolves around it should be heavily tinged by that. So why was it that with all the horrors included here I still felt disconnected? At first I worried that I’ve been immunized to its effects. But I don’t think that is the case considering the amount of tears I shed each and every year on Holocaust Memorial Day. Another possibility was perhaps the non-Jewish aspects detracted from the overall emotional impact that this story should have evoked. This too is doubtful because, although it was evident, it certainly wasn’t overpowering. That made me conclude that the author made some mistakes in the story line that ended up suppressing the gut-wrenching pathos that this book could (or should) have induced.

On the positive side, Cambron’s writing is clear and evocative, which makes for a very easy and enjoyable read, and points to a very worthy talent. The switching between the two eras works well and isn’t at all confusing; each section has its own very distinctive style and language. Furthermore, Cambron develops her characters with a careful, even hand that makes them ultimately sympathetic to her readers.

Sadly, the bottom line is that Cambron didn’t tap into the sorrow enough to strike the emotional chords I was hoping to feel. For this alone I have to give this book only three out of five stars. Despite this, I am positive that fans of Christian fiction will be able to identify with this book much better than I, and the subject matter is one that should not be ignored – so for them, I still recommend it.

NG Apple_NetGalley Health Rev 3The Butterfly and the Violin” by Kristy Cambron published by Thomas Nelson, released July 8, 2014 (ISBN 978-1-4016-9059-5) and available on iBooks. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me the advance reader copy via NetGalley.

About the Author
Davida is a published poet, amateur baker, a home-made ice-cream maker, an average bowler, and a chocolate gourmet (not an addict). She also has a passion for reading (despite her mild dyslexia) and writing book reviews. Her "day job" is resource development writing for the non-profit sector. Originally from Evanston, IL she made aliyah in 1978 and lives in Jerusalem with her husband and three grown-up children.
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