This is my Radio NZ review of a collection of stories Violin Lessons (Text) by Australian Arnold Zable of Greek/Polish Jewish descent. They are true stories, written 1970-2011, peopled by those who've lived or continue to live in places like Iraq, Poland, Greece, Germany, Vietnam, Estonia -- refugees, immigrants, people displaced, dispossessed, devastated.
Zable is a human rights advocate and performance storyteller, and I met him at the Christchurch writers' festival a few years back.
Many of the stories in Violin Lessons are linked back to Zable's family history -- his mother was a Polish Jew whose family ran in terror from their burning village in WW II, and all are linked by music. As Zable explains it, music "comes unbidden when all else fails us", awakens memory and feeling, restores order, is an exorcism, an act of defiance in a partisan song, a lullaby to comfort a child.
From the stories:
'You get inside music and the music gets inside you. You see? There is no politics in it. Only music.'
Regarding Egyptian diva Umm Khultum: 'each performance was an act of renewal – building in intensity to an exalted state known as tarab …'
“There was a time when language and song were one, when to speak was to sing, a cry of rage against an unforgiving sea, an impassive sky.”
This is a powerful collection that builds its power story by story. Many of them shave set up camp in my head especially the story of Iraqi refugee Amal Basry and 'Threnody' about the death of Zable's nephew.
More details in the review.