Review: Great Expectations for Maira Landa

conciertoWilliam Navarrete (El Nuevo Herald) recently posted a glowing review of Cuban-born Puerto Rico-based writer Maira Landa’s book Concierto para Leah (2010) [see previous posts Maira Landa’s Concierto para Leah and New Book: Maira Landa’s Concierto para Leah]. See a short summary with a link to the full review below:

Navarrete explains that writer, entrepreneur, and civic leader, Maira Landa, born in Havana, surprised many when she published her novel Concierto para Leah (Editorial Pasadizo, 2010), which was one of the 10 finalists for the Planeta Award in 2009. The successful book—three editions in less than a year after the publication—earned her the 2011 Puerto Rico PEN Club Award.
In a recent presentation in Miami, the author justified her interest in literature by stating that “After my Masters in Creative Writing [from the University of the Sacred Heart, San Juan, Puerto Rico] I discovered that writing is what I want to take over the rest of my life.” She explained that she considers that the author must fulfill two roles: to entertain the reader but also to become a transmitter of messages in the best humanist style, to transmit life teachings, to become an emissary of knowledge.

Concierto para Leah was first presented to the public at the Tapia Theater in Old San Juan, in December 2010. On that occasion, the Cuban actress Marilyn Pupo performed selections from the novel. It summarizes a painful passage of history: the refusal in 1939 by the government of Cuban President Federico Laredo Bru to welcome the crew of Saint Louis, a ship arriving from Hamburg, which carried a great number of Jews to the Americas. Among these passengers, she places her four protagonists: a couple with their two young daughters. The ship was anchored several days in the port of Havana until its captain was ordered to lift the anchor and leave Cuban waters. Along their trajectory, they did not find asylum in the United States either.

The story begins in Nazi Germany, in the city of Bremen, when Hitler’s intentions were looming over the horizon; it continues with the Saint Louis’ unfulfilled journey, followed by a sojourn in Paris during the days of the Occupation and the consequent deportation of the family, which ended up in Auschwitz.

Leah, the protagonist, is a violinist. She clings to her Guarneri as the last memory of her life before desolation and exile. The work, in this sense, becomes a musical novel, consisting of four movements and a coda. “The Meditation of Thaïs,” a violin solo from the opera Thaïs, by Romantic French composer Jules Massenet, is an essential component of Concierto para Leah.

The author explains why she decided to include this piece at the center of the plot saying, “On the one hand, because of the great lyricism and beauty of its melody; on the other, the analogy between the protagonists of the opera and my novel; both women face a meditation process about the life they must face if they want to save their body and soul.”

Music becomes the tuning fork for the plot. There is one moment—amid the horror that Leah experiences in the extermination camp—in which victim and executioner commune in the same ardent chapel of their passion for music. The scene in which Leah is forced to play her violin before the malevolent Doctor Mengele, known as “Doctor Death,” is very eloquent. The characters, who unearth this history from the standpoint of our present, are also musicians.

Navarrete adds: “Literature about the Holocaust has been abundant, but it will always be insufficient in proportion to the true representation of such barbarism. Maira Landa can indeed feel proud to have contributed to renewing the memory, to help us not forget the victims of this outrage. Her first novel leaves us with great expectations: a writer born and we look forward to the continuation of her work.

For full review (in Spanish), see http://www.elnuevoherald.com/2013/04/06/1447104/maira-landa-una-opera-prima-de.html

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