Jan. 23rd, 2016



The Moonlit Garden was my Kindle First book of the month; that is, a book free to Prime members and available pre-publication. I picked it because it was originally written in German and I felt I should be reading more books in translation. (See also The Glassblower Trilogy.)


You wouldn’t guess from the title, but the book tells the history of a violin, moving between 1902 and 2011 in Sumatra, Berlin and London. Lilly Kaiser is a young widow running an antiques shop in Berlin. One day a stranger enters the shop, presents her with a violin case, tells her the violin belongs to her and vanishes. Lilly knows nothing about violins but can tell that this is an old one and beautiful. It’s also very distinctive, having a rose burned into the wood below the varnish. Why should it belong to her? Lilly contacts her best friend, Ellen, now living in London. She runs a business restoring musical instruments. (Here is my first quibble with the author, translator and editor. How many people in London live in beautiful Elizabethan houses? My guess would be: none.)

Lilly goes to London to stay with Ellen’s family and begin her investigations. (Quibble No. 2: would any wealthy English girls have been called Norma in 2011?) Ellen recommends getting in touch with the head of a music school which maintains an archive of musical instruments and performers of the past. By an amazing coincidence, the musician turns out to be Gabriel, the rather gorgeous man Lilly sat next to on the plane from Berlin and never expected to see again. Between them they discover that the violin once belonged to a musical genius called Rose Gallway and later to another great performer, Helen Carter. A further piece of the puzzle is a scrap of manuscript music found in the violin case, a piece called The Moonlit Garden. Is it a clue? Could it be in code?

In pursuit of her quest, Lilly travels to Cremona, Sumatra and back to Berlin. The reader is always a step ahead of her as the lives of Rose and Helen are described in parallel chapters. (Quibble No.3: why can’t anyone get English titles right?) At last Lilly, Ellen and Gabriel, with the help of various experts and a lot of luck, solve the mystery and discover why Lilly is the right person to have the violin. Will this have helped her break out of the rut she’s got into as a widow and mean a happy new life for her? You’ll have to read the book to find out. An enjoyable, light read which may make you want to visit Indonesia. It will be out on February 1st.

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