Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Melody of Secrets by Jeffrey Stepakoff

The Melody of Secrets
Jeffrey Stepakoff
272 pgs, 10/29/13

Goodreads Summary

Jeffrey Stepakoff's The Melody of Secrets is an epic love story set against the 1960s U.S. space program, when deeply-buried secrets could threaten not just a marriage, but a country.

Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn't much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was shot down during a daring night raid and sought shelter in Maria’s cottage. Fifteen years later, in Huntsville, Alabama, Maria is married to a German rocket scientist who works for the burgeoning U.S. space program. Her life in the South is at peace, purposefully distanced from her past. Everything is as it should be—until James Cooper walks back into it.

Pulled from the desert airfield where he was testing planes no sane Air Force pilot would touch, and drinking a bit too much, Cooper is offered the chance to work for the government, and move himself to the front of the line for the astronaut program. He soon realizes that his job is to report not only on the rocket engines but also on the scientists developing them. Then Cooper learns secrets that could shatter Maria’s world.
My Thoughts
This is Maria’s story.  It mainly takes place in 1957 with a few flashbacks to 1945 for the backstory.  Maria was born in Germany and lived there throughout the war.  She witnessed terrible things and when Hans – a man who had taken care of her after her parents deaths – proposed with condition of moving to the U.S. she accepted.  Maria is mostly happy with her life in Alabama.  She has a nice house, a caring but not passionate husband, and a son she adores.  She’s also part of a symphony that they (the other German transplants) have started in their town and the symphony is taking off largely thanks to her. 
Then James Cooper, an American Pilot she spent a few days with during the war turns up and everything happens all at once.  Questions of whether she should have accepted Hans’ proposal or waited for James resurface.   Maria starts to wonder whether her husband was as uninvolved with the S.S. and the camps as he has always lead her to believe.  She also really notices segregation and draws parallels to early Nazi treatment of Jews that make her feel she must fight it.
My favorite aspect of the story was the one not even mentioned in the summary – a German woman’s perspective on segregation having spent WWII in Germany.

I read this in one sitting.  The writing is mostly beautiful (with a couple run-on sentences that I hope get fixed for final printing).  Good in concept, but I felt The Melody of Secrets tried to tackle way too many important issues and themes then can be handled well in under 300 pgs.  It left all the characters including Maria feeling somewhat flat.

My Rating

Enjoyability (4 out of 5 stars)
Characters (2 out of 5 stars)
Writing (4 out of 5 stars)
I will remember this book for at least a year. 

Disclosure:  I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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