Arias for Hope.

Book Review for “The Opera Sisters” by Marianne Monson.

Summary: British sisters Ida and Louise Cook enjoy their quiet, unassuming lives in south London. Ida writes romance novels, and Louise works as a secretary. In the evenings, the sisters indulge in their shared love for opera, saving their money to buy records and attend performances throughout England and Europe, becoming well-known by both performers and fellow opera lovers. But when Hitler seizes power in 1933, he begins targeting and persecuting German Jews, passing laws that restrict their rights and their lives. The sisters continue their trips to the German opera houses, but soon, Jewish members of the opera community covertly approach the sisters, worried that they will be stripped of their wealth and forced to leave their homes and the country. Danger looms on the horizon, threatening to spill across all of Europe’s borders. Ida and Louise vow to help, but how can two ordinary working-class women with limited means make a difference?”

Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, UK – London, Germany, Austria, Poland; Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, Holocaust, WWII.

Opera Sisters

Yes, I know, another WWII/Holocaust novel. But before you dismiss this one out of hand, let me say that these two women were recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum as Righteous Among the Nations. That means we’re talking about real women who really saved the lives of dozens of people, and tried their best to save more. And the thing about them was, they were two women from a relatively lower-class family. They only found out about the problems with the Jews via the friendships they made when they met a few famous opera people. Plus, even though their rescue mission started with highly connected, well-known people, it was with their own ingenuity and dogged perseverance that they succeeded in saving so many lives.

Although good parts of this read almost like a non-fiction biography of these women, there are still some really poetic pieces here. These are interspersed into the action when Monson describes the many places and homes where they find themselves on their many travels. Without them, and the conversations between the Cooks and the many people they encounter, this might have been terribly dull, especially considering the few years of action that Monson chose to detail. By that I mean that more than half of the book takes place before the actual outbreak of the war with England, including while Hitler was starting to invade other countries. That means that some of the sisters’ work took place in locations already under Nazi control, making their work perilous. Obviously, when England declared war against Germany, their trips abroad had to be curtailed completely.

With the sisters stuck in the UK, and the onset of war, I felt a lull in the book where a good deal of the text had to do with the historical facts, and much less about these two women and their quest to save as many people as they could. Thankfully, these historical interludes weren’t all that pronounced, and they were mostly abbreviated. Admittedly, I skimmed over most of those parts, as I was anxious to get back to Ida and Louise. However, I also felt like there was a distinct loss of momentum to the novel because of these. First, in the parts after the war broke out, and then again when Hitler attacked the USSR. Yes, Louise and Ida did do their “bit” as the British like to say, but as much as they tried, I felt like it was far less than what they were hoping they’d be able to achieve. Mind you, what happened in London with Ida during the Blitz was still very interesting.

I guess this makes it sound like this book is slightly inconsistent, and that’s probably correct, on one level. However, what was really consistent throughout this novel was Monson’s writing. As the title of this review indicates, Monson portrays Ida as someone who is able to see beauty and enjoy simple things, even when there’s so much death and destruction around her. There’s one scene when Ida is going home after a very bad bombing at the shelter where she volunteers, and she’s struck by the crocuses coming into bloom in a nearby park. This was is described with such amazement, you can practically see Ida looking at them yourself. These are the types of observations that allow the reader to ignore the lulls in the story, and remember why we’re reading about these amazing women.

Almost all WWII stories can bring a lump to one’s throat, especially when we go through all their sufferings with them, only to finally reach the moment of peace. These are even more poignant when the characters really existed, or are based on real people. Mind you, that also means there will be appendices. Here we get all the usual ones as well as end noes that Monson included as references to events throughout the book; all of which are fascinating. All this is just to say that I am absolutely recommending this novel, but with a few reservations. Therefore, I think I’ll rate it four and a half stars out of five.

ceea3-4andhalftiny

30483411-0-Edelweiss-Reviewer-BShadow Mountain Publishing released “The Opera Sisters” by Marianne Monson on September 6, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.

This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#41), Historical Fiction Reading Challenge (#35).

Start your own WordPress blog today!

15 thoughts on “Arias for Hope.

  1. I forgot to mention – the one I just posted on hist.fic.challenge, The Ways We Hide is also WWII with a slightly different perspective and based on real people/events. You might like that one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I added the Winter Orphans to my TBR last month from yet another blogger. Seems like it might need to move up my list. Davida – this one sounds intriguing also – great review by being honest – that’s when reviews are the most helpful because it gives a potential reader insight about whether the book might be for them. 4.5 stars is still pretty outstanding!
    Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Rosli and Anne-Marie were the two main characters…

        “Rösli Naff spent most of her postwar life in Denmark, choosing to settle in that country because she admired the way it saved the majority of its Jewish population. In 1989, when she was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, she initially declined the honor, saying that she only wished she could have done more. Later, at a ceremony honoring Germaine Hommel in 1992, Rösli finally accepted her medal. She passed away in Glarus, Switzerland, in 1996. Anne-Marie Im Hof-Piguet (her married name) was also recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1990, alongside two of the Cordier sisters, Victoria and Madeleine.” ~The Winter Orphans

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.