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?
About the Author
Jennifer Steil is the author of two previous books, The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, a memoir of her experience as a journalist in Yemen, and The Ambassador's Wife, a novel about a hostage crisis that was also inspired by Steil's own experience. She currently lives in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, with her husband and daughter.
"A beautiful coming-of-age tale... Moving, evocative, and well-researched, this is sure to linger in readers’ minds long after the last page has been turned." —Booklist (starred)
"Immersive... evocative." —Publishers Weekly
"Beautifully narrated...From the very first pages I was swept up."
—Georgia Hunter, New York Times bestselling author of We Were the Lucky Ones
“Gorgeous and lyrical, Exile Music captures the delicate rhythm of one girl's coming of age while driven by war and exile. Heart-wrenching, tender and powerful." —Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of Searching for Sylvie Lee
“Out of this this little-known corner of history, Steil offers a beautiful meditation on the things we all hold dear - family, friendship, home. My Beautiful Friend meets The Pianist in this elegant symphony of a novel.”
—Ruth Gilligan, author of Nine Folds Makes a Paper Swan
“This riveting, elegantly rendered coming-of-age story sheds light on the community of Jewish refugees who found sanctuary in La Paz, Bolivia. With vivid historical details and unforgettable characters, Exile Music captures the heartbreak of exile, the painful scars of survival, and the redemptive power of art.”
—Amy Gottlieb, author of The Beautiful Possible
“A celebration of the redemptive power of love, art and music in the face of the cataclysms of history, this novel weaves a powerful spell. I fell in love with Orly, a keeper of secrets and stories, who holds her family together by force of will when it seems certain they will fray apart. In prose of vivid beauty and lyrical toughness, Steil illuminates the life of the émigré with moments of unexpected kindness, tension, tragedy and triumph.”
—Ariel Kahn, author of Raising Sparks
"Jennifer Steil has created a world that is as fierce and stunning as her exquisite language. She dares ask the question where do we belong - and forces the reader to question our own conceptions of what makes a home. Ultimately, this is a story of a woman searching for herself following unimaginable trauma."
—Elizabeth L. Silver, author of The Execution of Noa P. Singleton
“Vienna, Austria and La Paz, Bolivia; war and peace; immediate love and mingled yearning; tangled desires sprung from single seeds—Exile Music is a magnificent exercise in connections among objects, ideas, and places that seem to have nothing in common, but do.”
—Beth Kephart, author of Strike the Empty and This is the Story of You
“Here is a coming-of-age book for anyone who has ever felt their world shift on its axis, from light to dark, from comfort to abject terror, from sonorous to sheer noise--for anyone who has ever had to run. A lyric and heartrending adventure.”
—Elizabeth Cohen, author of The Family on Beartown Road
“Jennifer Steil is a conjurer of spells and a resurrector of lives past. In Exile Music she brings to life a little-known chapter of a war that came to define us, & which were still grappling w today. This beautiful book is at once timeless and topical. A great novel.”
—Daniel Torday, winner of the National Jewish Book Award for The Last Flight of Poxl West