While the Music Played

Written by Nathaniel Lande
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Max Mueller has been serenaded by the finest music since birth, for his Berlin-born father is the lionized conductor of Prague’s symphony orchestra. Nurtured by Viktor, Max is a blossoming teenage musician when Hitler’s army overruns Czechoslovakia in 1939. Max’s beloved friend Sophie is arrested and loaded onto a train, along with soaring numbers of Jews from Nazi-occupied territory. Sophie is fortunate, for Viktor’s influence and her musical ability steer her to Terezín, a showpiece concentration camp designed to mask the Nazis’ lethal intent.

Viktor Mueller is conscripted into the Nazis’ cultural ministry by General Reinhard Heydrich, but the music they both love has not tamed Heydrich’s savage breast. Max is horrified to learn that the cultured opera lover is also creator and director of the Final Solution—the extermination of Europe’s Jews. Even worse: Viktor seems to be collaborating with Heydrich, who was titled “the Butcher of Prague” by defiant Czechs.

Not everything is as it seems in While the Music Played, a terrific historical novel by the multi-talented Nathaniel Lande. Mr. Lande uses his award-winning experience as a writer, journalist, and filmmaker to examine the plight of Europe’s conquered people. His characters—both real and fictional—experience Europe’s agony through multiple viewpoints. They also triumph over hate and fear through strong friendships and personal courage. While the Music Plays is a lengthy book, but its meticulous research and highly readable style won’t let you put it down. I loved it!