The New York Times-bestselling author of A Fierce Radiance and City of Light returns with a new powerful and passionate novel—inspired by historical events—about two women, one European and one American, and the mysterious choral masterpiece by Johann Sebastian Bach that changes both their lives.
In the ruins of Germany in 1945, at the end of World War II, American soldier Henry Sachs takes a souvenir, an old music manuscript, from a seemingly deserted mansion and mistakenly kills the girl who tries to stop him.
In America in 2010, Henry’s niece, Susanna Kessler, struggles to rebuild her life after she experiences a devastating act of violence on the streets of New York City. When Henry dies soon after, she uncovers the long-hidden music manuscript. She becomes determined to discover what it is and to return it to its rightful owner, a journey that will challenge her preconceptions about herself and her family’s history—and also offer her an opportunity to finally make peace with the past.
In Berlin, Germany, in 1783, amid the city’s glittering salons where aristocrats and commoners, Christians and Jews, mingle freely despite simmering anti-Semitism, Sara Itzig Levy, a renowned musician, conceals the manuscript of an anti-Jewish cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, an unsettling gift to her from Bach’s son, her teacher. This work and its disturbing message will haunt Sara and her family for generations to come.
Interweaving the stories of Susanna and Sara, and their families, And After the Fire traverses over two hundred years of history, from the eighteenth century through the Holocaust and into today, seamlessly melding past and present, real and imagined. Lauren Belfer’s deeply researched, evocative, and compelling narrative resonates with emotion and immediacy.
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About the Author
Lauren Belfer’s novel A Fierce Radiance was named a Washington Post Best Novel; an NPR Best Mystery; and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her debut novel, City of Light, was a New York Times bestseller as well as a number one Book Sense pick; a New York Times Notable Book; a Library Journal Best Book; and a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. She lives in New York City.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As both a musician and a literature major, this book kept me entranced. A second reading for my book club was as enjoyable as the first reading. I loved the information about the Bach and Mendelssohn families and was intrigued with the moral and ethical questions posed. I have recommended the book to numerous people.
Lauren Belfer undertook quite a task in writing And After the Fire. The story of a found J. S. Bach manuscript in the 21st century is attractive material to any musician or musical history student. It is not difficult to believe this manuscript was by Bach as he wrote often from messages by Martin Luther. Yet, I found it troubling that these two people so highly respected in our time were antisemitic in their day. Belfer transcends three time periods in writing And After the Fire. They are 1780-1870, the end of World War II, and current day. The transitions back and forth could make for difficult reading. But Belfer’s writing is seamless and meticulous about character, time, and place of her focus. The research in this book is well done. I’m a fact-checker and I didn’t catch one misstep in Belfer’s reporting the facts to her readers. Additionally, I enjoy reading a book where I find few misspellings or grammatical errors. And After the Fire holds mystery, history, musicology, genealogy, and romance within its pages. It is easy to recommend it to a variety of readers because of its varied genre held within a single novel. Recommendation: Don’t miss Lauren Belfer’s And After the Fire.
Written in my favorite format where the author transforms us to another time & place then brings us back to the present. Beautifully written story with a history lesson I'm sure I would never have known about prior to reading. Admittedly, my classical music collection has doubled since reading this novel. I simply devoured this story unable to put down until I finished the very last page!
Ms. Belfer's latest novel seems to mirror the Bach cantata at the center of the story, from its detailed introduction to its heart-pounding finale. Spanning from 18th century Prussia to present-day New York City, this is not "just another" WWII artifact narrative. The characters both real and fictitious, reveal themselves in sometimes unexpected ways, taking the reader on a journey of inquiry and discovery. Sara Itzig Levy and Susanna Kessler have plenty in common although separated by many centuries. How they question and confront issues of faith, history, prejudice and art has stayed with me long after I turned the last page. Meticulously researched and expertly crafted, themes of "And After The Fire" flow with a cadence which will delight all readers, especially lovers of historical fiction. Brava!
And After The Fire is a rich blend of literary fiction, historical research and suspenseful storytelling. Grounded in fiction, Belfer’s vast and comprehensive research adds an unparalleled amount of historical detail to her plot. The novel moves seamlessly between the 1700s, the 1940s and the present day, and easily transports the reader into each carefully constructed era. Although the controversial cantata by Bach is not real, the challenges that it poses are relatable and relevant to this day. I was immediately invested in the characters and their actions. It was a true page-turner and I could not put it down! The novel also touches on so many different and universal themes, like love and loss, that I think it would be a great book club read. I highly recommend for fans of historical fiction, literary fiction, thrillers and music.
I couldn’t put it down...Lauren Belfer did a great job. I have now read all three of her books, and liked them all. But I think I liked this one the best. I wanted to start rereading immediately upon finishing it. I want to listen to all the music, read the biographies of all those mentioned, and visit all the historic places mentioned. I will be choosing it for my book club selection.