Even in the darkest night, a star will shine,
A bell will chime, a path will be revealed.
Award-winning writer Pam Munzo Ryan’s Echo is a stupendous book. It is four stories intertwined, much like a symphony coming together in the last movement and hence, “a novel”. The first three stories are about four children — Friedrich Schmidt ( Oct 1933, Trossingen, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany), orphans Mike and Frankie Flannery ( June 1935, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA) and Ivy Maria Lopez ( December 1942, Southern California, USA). Each story focuses on their love of music, playing the harmonica, piano and flute exquisitely. It is a beautiful space the children create with their talent at a time of grim reality — concentration camps, rise of Hitler, persecution of Jews and the marginalised, the Great Depression, state of orphanages, adoption, the captivity of American Japanese after Pearl Harbour by the government, segregation of Mexican children in schools, etc. There is a touch of magical realism which seems to be perfectly acceptable in young adult fiction (but would have been nitpicked about in adult trade literature such as Yann Martel and Kazuo Ishiguro’s recent novels). The magical thread binding the stories has an extraordinary fairytale element to it. It is the harmonica presented to the craftsman Otto when he was a child by the three princesses Eins, Zwei and Drei upon whom a spell has been cast by a witch. Once Otto as an adult decides to donate the harmonica it is found by the other children — Friedrich when he worked as an apprentice at the local harmonica factory, Frankie who had dreams of playing in Alfred Hoxie’s then-famous Philadelphia Harmonica Band of Wizards, and later Ivy Maria Lopez who uses it to perform in her school orchestra. In 1951 the young musicians perform Gershwin together at Carnegie Hall.
Ivy felt as if she’d been touched by magic. Her eyes caught the glances of other musicians. And it was clear they felt it, too.
Who can explain it?
Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons,
Wise men never try.
Some enchanted evening. . .
Tonight there was a brilliance in the hall, a communion of spirits, as if Ivy and the conductor and the pianist and the orchestra and everyone in the audience were one, breathing in and out to the same tempo, feeling one another’s strength and vision, filling with beauty and light, glowing beneath the same stars. . .
. . . and connected by the same silken thread.
Here is a wonderful profile from Kirkus Reviews of Pam Munzo Ryan ( https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/pam-munoz-ryan/)
Echo is written for young adults but it is a magical book that will appeal across ages. Appreciate it for its inspired storytelling or read it as a conversation starter in classrooms but read it you must.
Pam Munzo Ryan Echo: A Novel Decorations by Dinara Mirtalipova. Scholastic Press, An imprint of Scholastic, New York, 2015. Hb.
16 April 2016