The Glass Harmonica

Written by Dorothee E. Kocks

A girl raised to sing and play the church organ, Chjara Vallé finds herself banished from the small village of Bastia, Corsica, when her music proves too sensual for the Catholic community. She is sent to nurse an elderly opium addict in France, where a chance encounter with a young widowed duchess and an American entrepreneur bring music back to her life in the form of a glass harmonica.

The glass harmonica was reportedly banned in parts of Germany and was not considered a fit instrument for a young lady to play. There were texts written which claimed certain harm could befall not only the player, but also listeners. Chjara mastered the instrument and lent her unique voice in accompaniment with the strange music, creating a spectacle not generally accepted in society.

When Chjara moves to America, she finds, ironically, that most of the townspeople do not accept her because of her Catholic roots, rather than her sensual music. Soon enough, however, they discover her secret, and she and her new husband must decide how best to make a living and raise their children.

One of the main themes of this story is society’s intolerance of open sexuality during the early 19th century. From Europe to North America, women especially were judged, and men only conversed and distributed banned material in secret. Engrossing as the story is with historical detail, there is also a poignant study of a marriage – complications which still ring true today, making this a relatable and immensely satisfying read. My only complaint is that the second part of the book seems rushed when compared to the first.