Review Blog

Feb 10 2009

The Mozart question by Michael Morpurgo

cover image

Walker Books, 2007.
(Ages 10+) Sent by her boss to interview the best violin player in the world, Lesley is given one imperative command, not to ask the Mozart question. At the violinist's house in Venice, Lesley is awkward and tongue tied, unsure of how to start. The amazing Paolo Levi is in front of her, a junior reporter given her first big assignment because of her boss' skiing accident. Inadvertently she asks the question, totally ignorant of its meaning, and because of her innocence, Paolo decides to tell her.
Morpurgo has created an exceptional way to tell children of the horror of the concentration camps in Europe during World War 2. Paolo tells Lesley of his parents and the hidden violin. Seeing a violinist in the streets, he learns to play the instrument, and when one day, he takes the busker back to his home, to reveal to his parents his skill, the three realise that they know each other. They were all violinists at a camp, where they were forced to play in an orchestra while people were killed in the gas chambers.
An emotional read, one that reinforces that a secret is just a lie, tells of the camps and their horror through what happened to one family, particularising the many images we see of the dead and dying at these places. It is Morpurgo's gift that he can tell children of such places with humour and a positive point of view, allowing children to absorb what happened there. Foreman's illustrations stress the calm nature of Venice and the pot of tea is repeated at the start and finish of the book, drawing the reader into the familiar after reading about this dreadful episode during war.
Fran Knight

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