The finding of a long-missing Bach cantata

And After the Fire - Lauren Belfer

This historical novel moves back and forth between the 1700’s to 1940’s to the present day. In Germany after WWII has ended, an American soldier, Henry Sachs, steals a music manuscript resulting in the death of a young girl.  The manuscript is a lost cantata by none other than Johann Sebastian Bach.  The lyrics contain violent Anti-Semitic words.  The book traces the path of this controversial cantata through the days when it was first given to Sara Itzig Levy by her music teacher, Bach’s son, through its present day finding by Henry Sach’s niece, Susanna Kessler.


Quite a few of the characters in this book are real people, though not the characters in the present-day section. The story of the Anti-Semitic cantata by Bach is a very believable one, since Bach often used the words of Martin Luther in his music lyrics and there has been controversy over the years as to his Anti-Semitic leanings.  The story is a fascinating one and touches on many German, French and American lives and the impact of Anti-Semitism on them. 


The book raises the question of what was to be done with this long-missing piece of music, written by such a renown composer that all the world should hear, and yet containing such hateful lyrics of a people who had already been through far too much. Should it be destroyed or can it be used for a better purpose? The author concludes her book in a truly masterful and satisfying manner as to the fate of the Bach cantata.


The book is well written and rings true. There were parts that I felt were drawn out a bit too long and in which I felt a bit disconnected.  But overall it’s a very good story about a very controversial issue.  Recommended.


This book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.