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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
The violin is one of the finest ever made. Its sensuous curves and glossy shine make it an irresistible work of art. It was created in Nuremberg, Germany in 1782 by the very talented luthier (violin-maker), Leopold Wilhelm. It is smaller than other violins, but the sound it emits is so rich and full of emotion that this gem of an instrument is both a rarity and a treasure. Its story takes it on a journey to Jebenhausen, a self-contained Jewish community in Wuerttemberg, Germany. Carried along by a talented Jewish violinist, the instrument makes its appearance at the Lindauer Inn, where the owner, a widow, and her children reside, as well as a tutor who takes his role seriously as the only son’s instructor for his bar mitzvah. The violin is both beautiful and it is a curse, for it brings havoc to those who admire and play it. When the instrument first arrives at the Lindauer home, Marta is only nine. She instantly takes to the violin, but, as a girl, she is forbidden contact with either the instrument or the music teacher. Secretly, she manages to secure the lessons she so desires, the lessons her brother receives. But at what price? Her honor?
Caren Umbarger’s novel, The Passion of Marta, is rich in both history and music. The idea of a passion relating to music was quite popular in Christian circles during the eighteenth century (the era/setting of this novel). The significance of the title is not lost on readers. The religious connotations of the title are significant: a young Jewish girl is steeped in grief, misery and suffering, until her unspeakable pain is released through the beautiful power of music, a true gift from God. Marta’s passion is her pain and suffering and how she can make something beautiful, in spite of the darkness inside her, in the form of music to glorify her God. Even the construction of this novel parallels that of its musical counterpart. The plot, much like the form of a musical passion, unravels in four parts, plus the prologue. Each part speaks with a different voice, a different point of view, but each voice speaks for the violin and the power it holds to express beauty beyond belief. This is a powerful story, full of the profound and deeply moving passions of music, beauty, art, love and faith. Like the 1998 movie, The Red Violin, Umbarger’s The Passion of Marta reaches the very depths of the power of music. A real treasure.