For Solansky, it was a new beginning that started with one great sweep of an arpeggio spanning several octaves and then several smaller arpeggios falling part way back down the keyboard. It was as if for every great step forward, Solansky had to endure several tumbles back downward, but that was just the beginning. There would be other great sweeps forward, again and again.
(from Hummingbirds in Winter, page 78)
Quick summary: Hummingbirds in Winter is a novel about composer Ben Solansky and his determination to save himself and his family — his wife, Ilonia, a soprano, and their children, David, a musician, and Lily, an artist — from the Nazis. Solansky manages to get his family out of Poland before the Nazi invasion, and author Anna Franco chronicles the family’s movements from country to country in a quest to get to New York. Franco details the lengths Solansky is willing to go to keep his family safe and the musical pieces he composes during the war, particularly the ones that bring to life America’s involvement in the war, both in Europe and the Pacific. The novel also follows the Resistance activities of people the Solanskys meet in Denmark and Brussels, providing a variety of wartime perspectives.
Why I wanted to read it: I can’t resist novels about escapes set during World War II.
What I liked: Hummingbirds in Winter shines in Franco’s descriptions of Solansky’s musical compositions, and I enjoyed how I could almost hear the pieces while I read about them, which is saying a lot because I know so little about classical music. It was a quick read, and I was intrigued by the characters and their stories.
What I disliked: The narrative lacks description, aside from the musical aspects of the story, and feels like the narrator simply tells readers what has happened. While I found the story readable and interesting, the characters and the various scenes could have been fleshed out more. Huge events that were important to the plot and the evolution of the characters were described in just a few paragraphs, which prevented the scenes and the characters from really coming to life. I was able to understand the characters and their motivations, but I just couldn’t connect with them.
Final thoughts: Hummingbirds in Winter is a novel about perseverance and making the best of any circumstance. The Solanskys gave up successful careers and left all of their belongings behind in an effort to survive persecution (and worse) at the hands of the Nazis, and they started over, settled into a routine, then uprooted themselves over and over again in order to stay alive. But Ben and his family kept living and creating, never taking their eyes off the prize. Although I would have preferred a fuller, more descriptive narrative and an emotional connection with the characters, the fast pace and intriguing characters enabled me to enjoy the novel overall.
Disclosure: I received Hummingbirds in Winter from the author for review.
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