This week’s book to talk about is The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb. I read the whole thing in two days and can’t wait to talk about it with you. I think this book would make an excellent addition to your book club’s schedule. There’s so much to talk about!!
From the publisher: Both a riveting mystery novel and a stirring meditation on the transcendent power of music, The Violin Conspiracy raises meaningful questions about destiny, family ties, and the artifacts we treasure.
Growing up in poverty, Ray McMillian has overcome steep hurdles—including his own mother’s naysaying—to achieve success as a classical musician. But as the day of the international Tchaikovsky Competition approaches, he is the victim of a daring heist: his beloved violin has vanished, and the list of suspects soon spans the globe. This was no ordinary violin. It had belonged to Ray’s enslaved great-grandfather, whose musical skill likely saved his life. What’s more, after he received the beloved instrument from his grandmother, Ray discovered that the “fiddle” is actually a priceless Stradivarius. Now it’s missing, and the hunt leads Ray to discover the true value of his ancestor’s legacy.
A quick Google search will pull up a set of Discussion questions for this book. They are great questions and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. So I’ve linked to the publisher’s website here. However, I want to create a different type of Book Club, one where the conversation helps us grow in our relationships to one another through personal connection and grow in our compassion for others.
Starting a conversation about this book should be pretty easy among those who read it. Here are three questions to start.
- Did you like or dislike this book? Why or why not?
- Was this book easy for you to read? Were there difficult passages for you? Are there any memorable quotes/lines you want to share?
- There were many themes in this book: family and found family, race and class, the legacy of slavery, competition and music, and of course, the mystery of who stole the violin and why. Which theme is the one that you keep thinking about, now that the book is done?
This is a time where you can build connections with each other through your conversations about the book. Here are four questions that will help do that:
- Ray begins his musical journey in high school. Did you play an instrument in high school? Were you any good? Did you ever want a musical career like Ray’s?
- Even before the value of the violin is known, Ray’s fiddle is his most treasured item. That importance grows as it’s value and beauty is discovered. So close is his bond to the violin that he feels a piece of himself is missing when it is stolen. Have you ever had a much valued and loved thing go missing? How do we determine value and worth?
- Ray begins to see his value and worth as a musician because of Janice’s belief in him. How did you view that relationship? Have you ever had a “Janice” in your own life?
- The climax of the book is the Tchaikovsky Competition. Have you ever worked that hard for something? What do you think of people who can achieve things like that? Is there something in their life that you can bring into your own to achieve your own dreams?
This is where I think the book shines. For someone like me, a middle class white woman, I don’t often read representations of black men excelling, especially in the arts. For me, it is paradigm bending to read the story of a black man, written by a black man, who was great at something. I crave reading experiences that show me another’s person’s experience. Here are some questions to help us develop a greater heart of compassion through our reading of this book.
- Brendan is quite clear that the stories of the wedding party and the Baton Rouge shakedown come from his own personal experience. How does knowing this change your experience of the book?
- Ray’s family experience was complex and layered. It’s easy to revile one part (his mother and uncles) and love another (Grandma Nora). What does this novel tell us about the families we come from and the ones we create? How would you respond if your family asked/demanded you share your bounty with them?
- One of the key conflicts of the book come from the ideas of “property” and “ownership” as it relates to enslaved people. Until the violin’s ownership is made clear, the descendants of the white slave owners claim the fiddle was theirs. Others suggest the violin was the restitution necessary for his ancestor’s enslavement. What did this book teach you about reparations?
For Some Added Enjoyment
Here are two extra things that I think would enhance your experience of this book:
- Brendan was interviewed by Anne Bogel on What Should I Read Next, a podcast on, well, reading. It was fun to hear him talk about his own work and what he likes to read. You find all the information you could want HERE.
2. Brendan created a playlist inspired by The Violin Conspiracy, full of beautiful and familiar classical violin works, as well as some less familiar. I’ve added a link here so you too can enjoy the beauty of this music. (Maybe you could even have it playing in the back ground during your conversation.)
Did you read or discuss The Violin Conspiracy? I would love to hear what you thought or if/how these questions changed your experience of the book. Books are always made better in conversation. I would love to converse with you in the comments below!