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Broken Song

Review

Broken Song

As a follow-up to her National Jewish Book Award-winner THE NIGHT JOURNEY, author Kathryn Lasky has written a companion novel titled BROKEN SONG --- a fictional narrative based on the early life of her grandfather, Joseph Lasky, at the turn of the 20th century. Broken out into four distinct sections (Russia: 1897; Russia: 1900; America, Ellis Island, New York: 1904; and Epilogue), this moving account of a young musician and his eight-year journey to escape his oppressive, anti-Semitic Russian homeland and find freedom in America, not only entertains, but also addresses a number of important issues that are still relevant in today's worn-torn society, in language that is suitable for middle-grade readers.

Russia: 1897. Fifteen-year-old Reuven Bloom and his family live in the Pale of Settlement --- the "Jewish area" of Russia consisting of twenty-five provinces that include Ukraine, Lithuania, Belorussia, Crimea, and part of Poland. Life in the Pale is less than idyllic as supplies are minimal and the threat of attack by the Cossacks is constant. Despite these setbacks, however, the Blooms have managed to build a closely-knit family unit fortified by trust, religious faith, and a strong dependence on the community. Reuven's devotion to playing the violin is outdone only by the love he feels for his family. But on the sixth night of Hanukkah, when the village is ransacked and his family is brutally murdered in front of his eyes, Reuven and his baby sister, Rachel, must leave all they know and embark on a treacherous journey that will hopefully lead them to safety.

Russia: 1900. Following a number of life-threatening encounters and just as many narrow escapes, Reuven and his sister are miraculously united with their cousin, Lovotz Sperling, a well-known and respected leader of the Bund --- the Algemayner Yidisher Arbayter of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, also known as the Jewish Worker's Federation. Taking Reuven and Rachel under his wing, Lovotz provides them with shelter and promises to send them to America along with his wife and children. But when Lovotz is murdered, Reuven makes a difficult decision to sacrifice his own freedom and his love for music in order to continue Lovotz's work as a revolutionary firebrand. Over the course of the next few years, Reuven climbs the ranks to become one of the Bund's greatest assets and a key player in the fight against Jewish persecution.

America, Ellis Island, New York: 1904/Epilogue. In 1904, Reuven is ultimately reunited with Rachel and Lovotz's family in America. In time, he falls in love, gets married, and begins playing the violin again as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic. At the novel's conclusion, Reuven finally has risen above his past and attained the three things he's always wanted: freedom, fame, and a family.

Music references frequent the pages, and a brief Historical Note is included for context. There are moments (especially towards the end) where the storytelling feels a bit too forced --- the ends too nicely tied --- which may frustrate some readers. However, as a whole, BROKEN SONG reads like a bracing adventure story, supported by a well-balanced fusion of actual historic events and Lasky's imaginative spin on her own family's background.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on March 3, 2005

Broken Song
by Kathryn Lasky

  • Publication Date: February 15, 2007
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Puffin
  • ISBN-10: 0142407410
  • ISBN-13: 9780142407417