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The Mozart Question

Review

The Mozart Question

written by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman

Michael Morpurgo's THE MOZART QUESTION begins with the narrator, a young female journalist from London, reflecting on the question that she (and certainly many other authors) gets most often: Why did you become a writer? To answer, she reflects on one of her first writing assignments, which she received by accident --- to interview the world's greatest living violinist, Paolo Levi, at his home in Venice.

The narrator is warned by her editor to be sensitive to the legendarily reclusive and eccentric Levi and, above all, not to ask him "the Mozart question." Fortunately for her, she doesn't even know what the Mozart question is. Instead, as she arrives in Venice and sits down with the shabbily elegant Levi in his apartment, she asks the first question that pops into her mind: "What made you pick up a violin and play that first time?"

As it turns out, this is the only question the young reporter needs to ask. This question --- which gets at the heart of Levi's entire history, which embodies his whole approach to making music --- sends Levi off into an intensely personal recollection of his childhood, his family history, and the violin that inspired him to make music in the first place. The result is a story both historically significant and deeply personal, one that readers won't soon forget.

Without giving too much away, young Paolo, at the age of nine, learned as much about the bravery and sacrifices of his parents and others like them as he did about playing the violin in those early years. Morpurgo's story underscores not only the potential of music for bringing people together, strengthening them, and inspiring redemption and miracles, but also the deeply emotional aspect of music, which can bring families together or wrench people apart.

THE MOZART QUESTION is lovingly, thoughtfully illustrated with Michael Foreman's blue-tinged watercolors, which skillfully depict not only the story's dark, tragic heart, but also its redemptive message, conveyed in part through the sunbathed skylines of Venice on the book's endpapers.

Morpurgo's tale is straightforwardly told, almost fable-like in its simplicity and emotional impact. Its simple language and elegant structure would make THE MOZART QUESTION an excellent book for parents and teachers to read with children, opening the door to more questions about family history, historic atrocities, and the miraculous powers of music to resist and overcome even the most shocking evils.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 26, 2008

The Mozart Question
written by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman

  • Publication Date: February 26, 2008
  • Hardcover: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 0763635529
  • ISBN-13: 9780763635527