Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai

Music for Wartime
Rebecca Makkai

Viking 2015

Rebecca Makkai offers readers a treasure trove of literary work in her collection of 17 short stories in “Music for Wartime,” an intriguing blend of artistic imaginativeness and her Romanian ancestry. 

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“. . .a memorable collection by an amazing storyteller .”

In The Miracle Years of Little Fork, a circus elephant dies from the heat in a small drought-stricken town. Young Reverend Hewlett attempts to bring order to the drama, convincing the community to bury the animal in the community pool. Suspense amplifies when rains arrive and the pool floods, followed by high winds that rip off the tarp covering the elephant.

Most of her characters are aligned in some manner to music and wars. In The Worst You Ever Feel, a boy sits on wooden stairs, mesmerized by music from a “nine-fingered violinist” who had been released from a Romanian prison after the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. The boy’s father, who escaped to America, was once a student of the violinist. Makkai dwells deeply into the boy’s mind, and his fear that people’s breathing would “propel the old man back to Romania on the wind of their exhalations.”

The beginning sentence to The Museum of the Dearly Departed reads, “There had been a leak.” Makkai in precise language devises a complex plot with storylines like spokes on a bicycle wheel. In this story, a music-loving Nazi saves a famous singer from the gas chamber. Subsequently, they marry and move to the United States. While on vacation, a gas leak kills everyone in an apartment building where they are staying except them. The couple then becomes an intricate part of the plot as the families of the dead arrive to take possession of the apartments when the building is declared safe.

These awe-inspiring stories, the author says, have been in the making for thirteen years. The satisfying result is a memorable collection by an amazing storyteller.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla