Play to the Angel

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Overview

Austria in 1938 is under the shadow of the Nazis, but twelve-year-old Greta doesn't notice-she cares only for her piano lessons with their new neighbor, a teacher with a mysterious past. Herr Hummel believes in Greta, and she begins to prepare for a recital. Then the Nazis invade, and Greta discovers her teacher's secret. His life is in danger, and she may be the only one who can help him.

"While the unusual Holocaust setting is well drawn and rings true, this is first and foremost a novel about a girl who ...

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Overview

Austria in 1938 is under the shadow of the Nazis, but twelve-year-old Greta doesn't notice-she cares only for her piano lessons with their new neighbor, a teacher with a mysterious past. Herr Hummel believes in Greta, and she begins to prepare for a recital. Then the Nazis invade, and Greta discovers her teacher's secret. His life is in danger, and she may be the only one who can help him.

"While the unusual Holocaust setting is well drawn and rings true, this is first and foremost a novel about a girl who pursues a dream and learns to believe in herself." (School Library Journal)

In Vienna in 1938, in the shadow of an increasingly dangerous Nazi Germany, twelve-year-old Greta pursues her dream of becoming a concert pianist like her dead brother Kurt, despite a lack of support from her widowed mother.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Greta Radky, the 12-year-old heroine of this historical novel, has much to contend with: a burning desire to play the piano, like her recently deceased brother, Kurt; a widowed mother who, in her grief over Kurt's death, cannot bear to hear Greta even talk about music; and the recent move of her best friend, Erika, from their Viennese neighborhood to the U.S. As the story opens, in February 1938, Frau Radky precipitates a crisis by announcing her plans to sell Kurt's piano. As chance would have it, a piano teacher from Germany has moved into Erika's apartment, and his enthusiastic support gives Greta the confidence to persuade her mother to keep the piano. Greta knows that Herr Hummel, the piano teacher, has had to flee the Nazis; what she does not know, of course, is that Hitler will annex Austria within the month. When the SS come looking for Herr Hummel, he owes his escape as much to Greta's quick thinking and courage as to luck. First-novelist Dahlberg offers memorable passages about music and musicianship, and her plotting is solid. But some key characterizations (e.g., of Greta's mother) are unconvincing and the setting feels thin, especially in comparison with a book like Doris Orgel's The Devil in Vienna, which also takes place during the Anschluss. Although Dahlberg shows promise, this effort doesn't quite come to life. Ages 9-12. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
VOYA
It is 1938 in Vienna, Austria, and twelve-year-old Greta Radky's only goal is to become a concert pianist. There are many obstacles in her path, not the least of which is the impending invasion by the German army. Greta's father abandoned the family long ago, and her older brother, Kurt, a famous concert pianist, has recently died. Both of these events have left her mother bitter and struggling. Greta's mother cannot bear to look at Kurt's grand piano. Greta, however, is determined to become a musician, and she fights fiercely to prevent the sale of the piano, setting up a huge conflict with her mother. After Greta convinces her mother not to sell the piano, she schemes to take lessons—free—from a mysterious musician who has recently moved into their apartment building. Greta's relationship with Herr Hummel is the most complex in the novel, although their casual rapport does not ring true for 1938 Vienna. Greta's music lessons provide for the most engaging dialogue of the novel. This book is mildly appealing. Greta is likeable, and the characters of her mother and school friends are well drawn. Greta is delighted to perform at a recital, and there are a few passages in which she speaks eloquently about her love of music, but the reasons for her passion are not detailed enough to be believable. There is a satisfying climax scene in which Herr Hummel's secrets are revealed during a Nazi rally, and the author epilogue neatly ties up any loose ends. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2000, Farrar Straus Giroux, 192p, $16. Ages 12 to 14. Reviewer: Dana Vance

SOURCE: VOYA, December2000 (Vol. 23, No. 5)

From The Critics
Set in 1938 Vienna just before and during the Nazi takeover, this well-written, fast-paced first novel focuses on likable, admirable, and indomitable twelve-year-old Greta Radky as she pursues her dream of becoming a concert pianist. When Greta discovers that her widowed mother plans to sell their piano because she cannot cope with hearing it played after the death of Greta's brother, another promising pianist, Greta is devastated. However, with the help of a family friend and Herr Hummel, Greta's new, mysterious piano teacher, Greta's mother relents and even consents to her performing in a prestigious recital. Dahlberg does a superb job in depicting the Nazi takeover, showing how many Austrian supporters — seemingly decent people — violently turned against Jews and those who wanted an independent Austria. Middle school girls, especially, will appreciate Greta's determination and her helping Herr Hummel flee to Prague, since he actually is a well-known German pianist whose anti-Nazi actions have marked him an enemy of the state. Genre: Historical Fiction. 2000, Farrar, Straus, Grioux, 186 pp., $16.00. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Bill Mollineaux; Granby, Connecticut
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Dahlberg's first novel examines the beginnings of the Holocaust in Vienna through the eyes of a 12-year-old aspiring concert pianist. Greta's father left the family when she was three, and her brother, a promising concert pianist with hemophilia, has recently died. In the shadow of an increasingly dangerous Nazi Germany, Greta lives with her mother, a dress designer working for a Jew. Grieving and worried about finances, the woman ignores her daughter and seems painfully unaware of her musical dreams. Greta is devastated by her mother's plan to sell their piano, until a new neighbor with a mysterious past agrees to give the girl free lessons and convinces her to keep it. When she eventually discovers that her beloved teacher is actually Karl von Engelhart, a renowned pianist who used his fortune to help Jewish artists leave Germany, Greta helps him flee to Prague. Dahlberg re-creates the time and place aptly, touching on the economic climate and recounting the infiltration of Nazism into Austria. Meanwhile, the narrative incorporates the protagonist's worries about not having a best friend and purchasing her first bra, missing her brother, and longing for her mother's attention. While the unusual Holocaust setting is well drawn and rings true, Angel is first and foremost a novel about a girl who pursues a dream and learns to believe in herself.-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
It is 1938 and Hitler's plan to annihilate the Jews has just extended into Vienna. Twelve-year-old Greta Radky knows only one thing to be true in her life—she wants to become a concert pianist like her late brother, Kurt. To make ends meet on a dressmaker's salary, however, isn't easy, and it takes considerable acts of persuasion before Greta's mother (Mutti) agrees not to sell their piano. When Herr Hummel, a reclusive pianist, moves into a nearby apartment, Greta's uncommon talent comes to light and she's given the opportunity to shine in a recital at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts. Greta often practices at his apartment so she can rehearse undisturbed. Wishing to repay him, Greta stashes money in a secret compartment within his desk, along with his passport, never knowing that one day both would be needed to save his life. When SS officers arrive to ransack his apartment, Hummel's true identity is revealed as Karl von Engelhart, a world-renowned pianist who uses his fortune to help Jewish artists flee Germany. Greta lies to the SS officers regarding Hummel's whereabouts, then brings her beloved teacher money and his passport to escape to Prague. Eventually, Greta and her mother must flee to Switzerland; having once worked for Jews, no one will purchase dresses from Mutti. Dahlberg has captured the fearful mood of Nazi terror in Austria; the reaction to Nazi propaganda by supposedly "decent" people will never be made palatable. The ugliness is laid bare: Greta's music by Mendelssohn is ripped up by Nazis because the composer is Jewish. A Catholic friend is tortured just because her hair and eyes are dark. Nazipostersdepicting hideous caricatures of dark, hook-nosed Jews are described. The blue angel that hangs above Engelhart's window symbolizes a whole culture's need for divine interception. Unforgettable writing from a first novelist. (Fiction. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142301456
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/1/1998
  • Pages: 192
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 7.83 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Maurine F. Dahlberg, an editor for a Navy research institute, studied piano and plays piccolo and flute in a concert band. She lives in Oak Hill, Virginia.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 5, 2008

    Play to the Angel Review

    Greta has always had a love for piano music getting much musical experience from her brother, a musical prodigy. However, ever since her brother's death, Greta's mother suffers from severe headaches and refuses to hear the sound of piano music again in her presence. Not to mention, she refuses to acknowledge how much talent Greta has with playing piano. But things start to turn around for Greta as Herr Hummel arrives in Austria with only one bag. His past in Munich is a mystery and he wants it to remain that way. However, the only thing everyone does know is that her is a retired piano teacher. Not for long however when he takes in Greta as his new student. Entering her into her first concert at the musical academy her brother played at many times, Herr Hummel teaches Greta something more important then just playing piano but believing in yourself. On the contrary, was is coming and Herr Hummel is in danger as Nazis invade Austria. Only Greta could be the one that can save her teacher now.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2007

    One of the best books ever!

    This book is beyond Amazing. it sends you back in time to what it was like in WW2. Everyone should read this book for it shows that the most basic people can be very brave twards the ones that they love. Gretta helps save the life of a man from the nazis. Gretta makes new friends. Greta even helps him mom when she is having heradaches and really sad over the loss of her son named Kurt. this truly is a must read book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2005

    LOVED IT!

    I loved this book! Im half german im not natzi or a jew, but this book gave me a feeling like i was in there like a ghost watching her everymove! Its sad her brother died, but its life. this book taught me how creul natzis really were and could be to poeple who werent even jews. this girl has a passion for music and i have a passion for reading Books like this! good job and keep up the work!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2003

    Needs more action; Great Plot though.

    It starts out good, a story about a girl who just wants to play piano. But know one understands her dream because its too 'fragile'. Her mother refuses to listen to her dream because of her brother who had died a year before. When Her Hummel moves in things change. He teaches her music and she finds courage in an unexpected way. It could have more adventure in it, more action. But for any serious musician who wants a little something to read this is your book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2003

    A Little Despressing

    This book was not all what it seemed like it was going to be. The only reason i'm giving it three stars is because I liked the way the author described playing the piano and how she struggled being her own person with music insteed of making her mother reflect back to her dead brother who also played the piano. When you find out Her's BIG secret you think okay......................The author needs to make the secret a little more...better than what it came out to be.

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