Book Review: The Butterfly and the Violin

Butterfy and the ViolinIn The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron, Sera James owns and manages an art gallery in Manhattan. For years she has been looking for a painting she saw as a child which held special meaning for her. She has finally found at least a copy of it, but hopes it will lead to finding the original. The owner, William Hanover, refuses to sell but wants to hire Sera because he also wants to find the original, but for very different reasons. They develop a relationship, but Sera is reluctant to open her heart again after having been left at the altar by her fiance two years ago. Unraveling the mystery of the painting at first brings them closer together but then suddenly brings a sharp division between them.

The painting portrays a young woman with piercing eyes, a shaved head, and a number tattooed on her wrist holding a violin. Cambron switches back and forth between the present day and Sera’s situation to the 1940s and the story of the woman in the painting, Adele von Braun, revealing more of Adele’s story in both narratives.

Adele’s father was a high-ranking official in the Third Reich, and she was a well-known violinist nicknamed “Austria’s sweetheart.” She loved a cellist named Vladimir, but her father would not sanction their relationship since Vladimir was only the son of a merchant. Adele kept seeing Vladimir in secret and eventually learned that he was part of a network that smuggled Jews out of the country to safety. Adele had hidden Jewish friends of her own that she secretly brought supplies to, but when she tried to help them escape, she was discovered, arrested, and sent to Auschwitz. There she became part of the prison orchestra, made to play every day as the prisoners were sent out to work, during executions, and occasionally at a Nazi social event. While she felt her spirit dying, her friend tried to help her see that there could be beauty and service to God even in such a place.

God is here. He sees. He knows what is happening in this place.

This, child, is our worship. To live and survive and play to God from the depths of our souls. This is the call that binds us. When we worship in the good times, it brings God joy. But worship in the midst of agony?…That is authentic adoration of our Creator.

One day we will be free. And we become free by living despite what they do to us. We live by working, and we work for God.

I had known that their were musicians among those in WWII prison camps who were made to play for the Nazis. And I knew that the Nazis had confiscated a lot of art during those years. But I hadn’t known that there were many paintings and other art by the prisoners themselves discovered after the camps were liberated – over 1,600 pieces in “partially destroyed warehouses and old barracks of Auschwitz,” according to the author’s note at the end. Those pieces still survive even now, though many of the artists are unknown. As one character muses in the story,

She told herself that to have something of worth in a world full of chaos was the very definition of beauty.  It felt like a spiritual liberation that couldn’t be silenced.  These prisoners, the ones who painted or wrote poetry or played in the orchestra – they refused to let that spirit die.  And this, she decided, is why the heart creates.

God plants the talent and it grows, sustained by a spirit-given strength to endure, even in the midst of darkness. It thrives in the valleys of life and ignores the peaks. It blooms like a flower when cradled by the warmth of the sun. It remains in a hidden stairwell in a concentration camp. It grows, fed in secret, in the heart of every artist.

I enjoyed both Sera’s and Adele’s stories and the themes of God’s presence in suffering and the need to create. This is Cambron’s first novel, and it has deservedly won many awards. My overactive internal editor stumbled over just a few minor places where I felt the writing was a little awkward, but I’m not even going to go into them because overall this was a gripping, fascinating, heart-breaking, yet beautiful story.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Laudable Linkage

With the 31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot series going on every day, I wasn’t sure whether additional posts during the week might be a bit much to keep up with; on the other hand, I don’t want to have an excessively long list of links to share at the end of the month, because I know that can be a bit much, too. So here are a few things I found of interest in the last couple of weeks:

How Your Bible Study Shapes Your Theology.

Hand in Hand, Heart Linked to Heart. A sweet piece about C. H. Spurgeon and his wife.

Why Modesty Scares Me.

Why Christians should Paint, Dance, Quilt, Act, Compose Music, Write Stories, Decorate Cookies, and Participate in the Arts.

The Pinterest feed changes: How to see more of what you want to see. And why you’ll never see all of it. If, like me, you have been frustrated with changes at Pinterest, this article shares how to fix a couple of them, and the powers that be at Pinterest seem to have reached out to this blogger with an interest, so maybe some of the comments there will reach the ears of someone who can and will do something about it.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage and Videos

Here are some good reads from the last couple of weeks:

Christmas Is For Those Who Hate It Most.

God May Not Have a Wonderful Plan for Your Life. He does, in the sense that He made it possible for us to go to heaven when we repent and believe He sent His Son to take our sins on the cross, and He has promised to be with us in this life, but some things in life are hard. The Bible said they would be, and we can give people the wrong picture of Christianity and rub salt in an open wound sometimes by spouting phrases like this.

God’s Heavenly, Glorious Melting Power. Ways to keep devotions from becoming mechanical.

Scowling at the Angel. “There in my brokenness I had so little to give. But grace, she never left. She met me in all my frailty, raw and wrathful, as exposed and defenseless as the day I was born.”

The Needs of Three Women. Being ministered to while ministering to the homeless.

3 Marks of Righteous Anger.

Daily Scriptures to Help Tame the Tongue.

The Story of Gwen and Marlene. This is a theme I have mentioned often, that women’s ministry is not always in specific programs. It’s mostly a matter of being available and interested in others.

Inhospitable Hospitality.

Our Love-Hate Relationship With Christian Art. “Christian art? Are you kidding me? Christianity has produced the greatest art of all time.”

A Letter to an “Expectant” Adoptive Mom. Great advice from one who has gone through the process not only of adopting, but adopting internationally.

How to Get People to Read the Bible Without Making Them Feel Dumb.

Union With Christ in Marriage. “Paul doesn’t give us commands to extract from the other spouse. Instead, Paul instructs us in the graces to give!”

What Foster Parents Wish Other People Knew.

It Takes a Pirate to Raise a Child, HT to Bobbi. Loved this – about how children’s stories shape their ideas of right and wrong, e.g., telling the author’s son that he was acting like Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  helped him understand his behavior towards his siblings was wrong when explaining and exhorting wasn’t getting through.

Merry Literary Christmas. 🙂

A couple of fun videos:

An two year old with amazing basketball skills:

Captain Picard and crew sing a Christmas song:

And a nice summary of The Paradox of Christmas:

Happy Saturday!

The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 4: Painting, Sketching, and Sculpturing

It’s Week 4 of  The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris where we’re discussing Edith Schaeffer’s book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking a chapter at a time.

In Chapter 4 Edith discusses how to incorporate “Painting, Sketching, and Sculpturing” into everyday life as an expression of creativity and encourages us that we can do so without having formal training or making a career of it. It can be used, just like the other categories of creativity that she’s discussed, to enrich our lives and stimulate our imaginations.

This chapter was a little harder for me because I have absolutely no talent in this area. In fact, a photo I saw on Pinterest pictures this perfectly:


I don’t even do stick figures very well, though they were useful at times when I had a little one on my lap that I was trying to entertain and keep relatively still and quiet, in church or a doctor’s waiting room. I’d draw something and ask them what it was, and they’d recognize my fledgling attempts to portray a duck or a car (I had to laugh when the Cube first came out because they looked just like the cars I used to draw.)

I don’t even remember doodling much in high school or college. In Junior High a new classmate said something about having had art in her previous school, and I was incredulous and envious. I don’t remember having any kind of artistic instruction in school (until a college Art Appreciation class), and no one in my family, as far as I knew, had any artistic tendencies. Somehow my middle son developed a talent for drawing quite well in his later high school and college years, mostly teaching himself with various art books, except for a year or when he was under the instruction of a gifted art teacher who helped him refine his talents.

I went through a “paint by number” phase in elementary school. I did enjoy a little bit of painting when a talented lady in one church we were in hosted a night to teach other ladies how to paint a flower on a tote bag. She used the same pattern with everyone to make easier to teach en masse but had different paints so we could each choose our own colors. It was exciting to me to learn to use light and shade to make a flat blob of a flower appear more realistic. I took a couple of One Stroke painting classes at Michael’s and loved them, but just never went any further with it.

But though I can’t draw well, I can use aids. I went through periods of using stamps or stencils or even stickers to make cards or decorate various things. I like to buy decorative Post-it notes or notepads rather than plain ones. I disagree with Edith when she says “Original ideas carried out can be an expression of love and care which cannot be made by buying something  ‘ready made’ or plastic” (p. 50). I think that kind of thinking can be burdensome and guilt-inducing, to feel personally or to make our loved ones feel that a gift that’s store-bought doesn’t “measure up” to something hand-made.

She didn’t discuss art appreciation in this chapter, but she has discussed in other chapters that we can come to appreciate forms of creativity that we may have no talent in ourselves.  I did mention an Art Appreciation class in college: I enjoyed it, but didn’t retain much from it, perhaps because one can’t go over the material as readily as one can music from Music Appreciation.

Unfortunately we did not go to museums much as the children were growing up, so I’m afraid I’ve perpetuated my ignorance in this area. I found one neat book about identifying art and artists that I wanted to use some time with them, but we never got around to it. These days, however, there is so much information available on the Internet that one can learn something of classic art if one wants to. I did discover over the years that I seem to like realistic more that abstract art, like that of Normal Rockwell and some of the old masters, though I liked some of the Impressionists, too, like Mary Cassatt. I find that I do enjoy art more by learning about it: the last time we were at a museum, as we were leaving I saw there were headphones one could use for a self-guided tour, and I thought that would be the way to really get the most out of it (for me).

But besides learning about great paintings and painters, one can develop an eye for artistry, for appreciation of color and design. I think for me that happened mostly through a Home Interiors class (thankfully interior decorating is the next chapter!) and then grew through various craft classes and helped as I started doing a newsletter for our church ladies’ group in terms of layout, making a cover page that is reasonably attractive, etc. Someone who really knew what they were doing in that area could probably point out many ways in which I could improve, and that’s fine – we all can grow, no matter what our level of knowledge or talent. But I am thankful for the ways I have grown so far.

I liked her idea of using drawing, even simple stick figures, to not only help keep a child’s interest during a sermon but also to help them grasp what was being taught. A former pastor used to say that it helped him in his Bible study to draw things out as he read.

My favorite line in this chapter, which really could be applied to the whole book, is “Ideas carried out stimulate more ideas” (p 49). I tend to gather a lot of ideas and my imagination can be stimulated by perusing Pinterest or web sites or books, but even that doesn’t compare to actually carrying out those ideas. Whatever area of creativity we’re discussing, just starting in some way or another stimulates more ideas, more creativity.

You can find more discussions on this chapter here.

Previous chapters discussed:
Chapter 1: The First Artist.
Chapter 2: What Is Hidden Art?
Chapter 3: Music.