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?
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.