3 out of 4 stars
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Meeting Mozart by Howard Jay Smith is a thrilling historical novel with events, unfolding on many time levels. Jake Conegliano, a communications specialist, works for the US Army Intelligence in the torn by the Second World War Italy in 1946. Jake finds himself in an old and ruined Jewish ghetto in Ceneda by chance. A young girl named Dolcetta, who turned out to be a fearless partisan during WWII, arranges his meeting with her granduncle, Rabbi Geremia Spinoziano. Dolcetta and Rabbi Geremia are the only survivors among the Hebrew community of Ceneda destroyed by the Nazis. Also, Jake's family lives in America but originates from Ceneda.
Rabbi Geremia gives Jake a treasure, the secret diaries of a famous librettist and poet, Lorenzo Da Ponte, whose real name was Emanuele Conegliano. Thus, he is Jake's ancestor. Also, Jake adores the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Da Ponte shared work and closest friendship with him. Rabbi Geremia dies that evening, and Jake and Dolcetta find comfort in each other's arms.
Jake begins to study the diaries of Da Ponte that speak about his glorious and dangerous life undercover, as "a Jewish priest." The diaries take us to beautiful Venice with everlasting feuds and сarnivals; to aristocratic Vienna with the Emperor court's intrigues and palaces, standing on the evidence of the enormous human tragedy; to beautiful Prague; to always young New York City. Working for the CIA, Jake, along with his family members and friends, continued to fight with the enemies of humankind, the Nazis, as many of them had been fortunate enough to escape from justice after the end of WWII. And all the time the eternal music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart plays in the background.
This book is a very emotional read. It would be impossible to forget how Dolcetta, being just a teenage girl, annihilated the deadly squadron of SS troops and saved many lives all by herself. For me, it was one of the most powerful scenes in the book. Dolcetta's courage, determination, loving heart, and striking beauty make her the most impressive character of the book, in my opinion. The book has a touch of mystery and even supernatural as the voice of another amazing woman, Zina Spinoziano, the first love of Da Ponte and a matriarch of the family, encourages and comforts those lost and hurt even from her grave. All the characters are very well-written and genuine. Also, the book has an element of suspense. Its many twists and turns are unpredictable, and the ending provides us with the main revelation.
The author brilliantly uses the mask metaphor. For example, in Venice in the 18th century almost everyone wore a carnival mask. But for Da Ponte, a converted Catholic who stays a Jew in heart, a disguise of a priest is necessary just to live and work freely, and it is truly heartbreaking. For me, the most important thing this book teaches us is that no one ever should live undercover or wear an identity-changing mask just to survive. The book also gives us a valuable lesson, saying that true humanism goes beyond the frames of any religion. Overall, this beautifully illustrated book is a gift from the award-winning author.
There wasn't anything to dislike about this book, and the only reason I gave it 3 out of 4 stars were more than ten mainly punctuation errors and typos that I found. I spotted most of them in the first two chapters of the book. It doesn't deserve fewer stars also because of a very vivid and historically accurate background of the unfolding events.
First and foremost, I recommend this book to all who love Mozart's magnificent music and are interested in the history of its creation. Those readers who prefer family sagas, espionage stories, crime thrillers, romance books, mystery novels, and historical researches would enjoy it as well. Readers who explore the WWII period would find the book worth reading. The book would also apply to all those who are not indifferent to the fight with anti-Semitism.
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