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Jennifer Steil

Bookfest in Your Livingroom Presents Jennifer Steil, Exile Music, on Sunday, May 15 at 10am

Based on an unexplored slice of World War II history, Exile Music is the captivating story of a young Jewish girl whose family flees refined and urbane Vienna for safe harbor in the mountains of Bolivia

As a young girl growing up in Vienna in the 1930s, Orly has an idyllic childhood filled with music. Her father plays the viola in the Philharmonic, her mother is a well-regarded opera singer, her beloved and charismatic older brother holds the neighborhood in his thrall, and most of her eccentric and wonderful extended family live nearby. Only vaguely aware of Hitler’s rise or how her Jewish heritage will define her family’s identity, Orly spends her days immersed in play with her best friend and upstairs neighbor, Anneliese. Together they dream up vivid and elaborate worlds, where they can escape the growing tensions around them.

But in 1938, Orly’s peaceful life is shattered when the Germans arrive. Her older brother flees Vienna first, and soon Orly, her father, and her mother procure refugee visas for La Paz, a city high up in the Bolivian Andes. Even as the number of Jewish refugees in the small community grows, her family is haunted by the music that can no longer be their livelihood, and by the family and friends they left behind. While Orly and her father find their footing in the mountains, Orly’s mother grows even more distant, harboring a secret that could put their family at risk again. Years pass, the war ends, and Orly must decide: Is the love and adventure she has found in La Paz what defines home, or is the pull of her past in Europe–and the piece of her heart she left with Anneliese–too strong to ignore?

Bio:

Jennifer Steil is an award-winning author and journalist who lives in many countries (currently Uzbekistan). Her third book, the novel Exile Music, was released by Viking in May 2020. It follows the lives of a family of Austrian Jewish musicians who seek refuge from the Nazis in Bolivia in 1938. Exile Music won the Grand Prize in the 2020 Eyelands Book Awards and was named a finalist for the 2021 Lambda Literary Lesbian Fiction Award.

Her previous novel, The Ambassador’s Wife, published by Doubleday in 2015, won the 2013 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Best Novel award and the 2016 Phillip McMath Post Publication Book Award. The novel, which explores white savior complex, freedom of expression, art, terrorism, and parenthood, was shortlisted for both the Bisexual Book Award and the Lascaux Novel Award, and has received considerable critical acclaim, notably in the Seattle TimesPublishers Weekly, Booklist, and The New York Times Book Review. It has been published in several other languages, including Italian, Bulgarian, Greek, and Polish. The Mark Gordon Company optioned the film rights to The Ambassador’s Wife, with plans to create a television miniseries starring Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway. Jennifer’s first book, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (Broadway Books, 2010), a memoir about her tenure as editor of the Yemen Observer newspaper in Sana’a, received praise from The New York TimesNewsweek, and the Sydney Morning Herald. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune chose it as one of their best travel books of the year in 2010, and Elle magazine awarded it their Readers’ Prize. National Geographic Traveler included the book in their 2014 recommended reading list. It has been published in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, and Poland. A bisexual writer who has lived in Arabia and South America for nearly a decade, she is interested in transcultural issues, freedom of expression, and human rights.