In a new docudrama titled And After The Fire Lauren Belfer gives her readers historical insight into bigotry perpetrated against Jews. The author uses a fictitious and controversial cantata written by Johann Sebastian Bach in a superlative effort to dramatize the racial bias that has dogged her people for centuries.
The protagonist is a Jewish woman in her mid-thirties who works as a director of an eleemosynary organization, a family foundation in New York City. She inherits a manuscript from a recently deceased uncle that appears to have been written by JS Bach. Her uncle came into possession of the document under very questionable circumstances at the end of World War II.
The story focuses on the many things experts do to prove the authenticity of ancient documents and their provenance, the chain of ownership.
But the most interesting issue is the one that faces the woman after it is determined that the document is an original, because the cantata contains offensive lyrics about Jews.
JS Bach (1685-1750) was German. He was a Lutheran and his music was very much inspired by the teachings of Martin Luther, who was a very outspoken anti-Semite.
The protagonist must decide what to do with the document. Her choices are to sell it for profit, sell it and donate the proceeds to charity (her current occupation), or destroy it because the cantata denigrates her people. You will have to read the book to find out what decision she makes.
The book is historically significant because it vividly portrays Jewish bigotry in Germany beginning in the late 1700s through the 20th Century. Belfer flashes back and forth in time from the present day to the years after the cantata was written to chronicle several people that were affected by the cantata.
She describes the opulent lives of wealthy Jews in the years after Bach passed away. The most fortunate of which were those that were bankers serving the royalty of the time. This however didn’t protect them from explicit and implicit racial denunciation.
Over the years the original owners of the Bach cantata were systematically stripped of their wealth by the French, German and Nazi regimes leading up to the end of WWII, by which time Adolph Hitler had murdered millions of Jews.
The book is wonderful in many ways. Aside from the trials and tribulations of Jews during an extended period of history, the book delves deeply into the works of Bach and his protégés. Even a neophyte should be thrilled to learn more about the classical music of the 1700s.