Saving Mozart: The Diary of Otto J. Steiner
Raphaël Jerusalmy, a Sorbonne graduate and formerly of Israeli Military Intelligence, invokes Anne Frank in his first novel. Like Frank’s diary, this novel is set in the early years before World War II, when German influence on the Jewish diarist’s country is on the rise, and the increasing isolation and deprivation of those lodged with the diarist increases narrative tension. Whereas Frank’s diary can be seen as a small piece of resistance written by a young schoolgirl against a violent, omnipotent regime, Steiner’s diary records another small piece of resistance.
Set in a tuberculosis sanitarium outside Salzburg, Saving Mozart describes one old man’s suffering from a disease that leaves its victims emaciated and weakened, much like the victims of Nazi death camps. Written between July 1939 and August 1940, Steiner’s diary gives a simple version of Germany’s infiltration of Austria and its invasion of Poland. In a special section devoted to his son, Steiner reports on his AWOL visit to the Brenner Pass to witness Hitler’s meeting with Mussolini. Throughout, Jerusalmy’s narrator hides his Jewishness while outmaneuvering the devious doctor running the clinic. As his tuberculosis progresses, corrupting Steiner’s lungs, the Nazi regime’s influence in Austria similarly progresses, corrupting its musical culture.
A former music critic, Steiner agrees to help his friend, Hans, prepare the program notes for the annual Saltzburg summer music festival. Part of his role is to make recommendations on what music will appear on the program. Struggling against the encroaching tuberculosis, Steiner uses this role to perform one last act of defiance. Steiner’s fictional diary is a brief but powerful story about a brave feat recorded for a son Steiner will never see again.