This is the first time I’ve read Christian fiction (besides C S Lewis and Tolkien) and I’ll be reviewing this book as I do any other so it may be the case that this review differs in its main focus than it ‘ought’.
Finding a painting, discovering history, and perhaps (hesitantly) falling in love.
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Published: 8th July 2014
Date Reviewed: 19th August 2014
Gallery owner Sera has been searching for a painting, seen once as a child and instantly loved, for several years. When her assistant tells her another is looking for it and wants the gallery’s help, she jumps at the chance and flies to the other side of the country. The family looking for the painting is wealthy but that wealth is in jeopardy and the painting is the key. In 1940s Austria, the subject of the artwork and the daughter of a general of the Third Reich is branded a traitor and sent to Auschwitz after it is discovered she aided an attempt to provide safe passage to a Jewish family. Both Adele and Sera search for security and happiness, hoping that God will provide.
The Butterfly And The Violin is a Christian dual plot line historical that looks at art, the Holocaust, and the plight and faith of two young women.
It’s often the case that a reader will prefer one plot line over another when there are two of them, however The Butterfly And The Violin is a book less likely to pull you one way. This is because although very different, both stories are of equal strength, the characters somewhat similar, and the stories well balanced. Though of course nowhere near as significant as Adele’s, Sera’s life has that present-day regularity that is compelling simply because of the emotions included in it. Whilst the time periods are fairly standard for dual plot stories, the fact of the Holocaust and Adele’s ‘role’ in it make the book stand out from others. Although Adele may be in a place of privilege, even in Auschwitz, Cambron never shies from showing you what was going on.
The biggest similarity between the women is their faith. We know more about Sera’s, descriptively, than we do Adele’s, but still it is not simply that both women are Christians. In The Butterfly And The Violin the emphasis is on the way faith is playing its part at that very moment, and for both Sera and Adele, at the time we join them, falling in love and being happy in love are two of the most important aspects of their lives. Both look to God for help, Adele prays she will see Vladimir again, and Sera prays that she will trust another after having had her heart broken. Indeed Sera’s faith is a little shaky – she still believes, and would never not believe, but the disappointments and losses have taken their toll and she hasn’t made much time for her faith since.
Obviously there are quite a number of references to God, faith, and Christianity (also Judaism, but as that isn’t a ‘subject’ so to speak, Christianity is what I’ll be focusing on). More often, at least for the first two thirds or so of the book, God is present in Adele’s story. On the surface it can seem that the references are too many and placed at inappropriate times. However if you step back from your reading and put yourself in the situation of the characters, in this case Adele, it seems perfectly natural. It is really more the case that where faith happens so much more in the mind than in conversation (generally) it’s simply that it can seem odd being actually stated, the things most often thought but not said are here, being voiced. This said, there is a sudden increase in references towards the end in both stories that do not work as well for different reasons. In Adele’s case it’s inevitable that in a crisis, a group of faithful people will look to God – it’s simply that the constant references slow down the pace and pull the focus away from the tragedy of the situation at hand. In Sera’s case it’s that it becomes a bit confusing, although it’s well placed as part of her self-discovery and improvement.
The confusion is part of a larger aspect that needs discussing. There are a few sections of the story that don’t quite add up and occasions where there is too much detailing. People tap their feet a lot, for example, and we have many descriptions of hair. Some of the phrasing doesn’t work. And there are also frustrating occasions wherein questions – literal, spoken questions – are not answered for a while and it seems the case that it’s so Cambron can keep the story going longer. There is one place where answers are ignored so that the author can detail a room, and by this time the reader just wants to know what’s going on. It’s not that the characters ignore the questions, it’s that they are left out completely until detail has been included.
Where Sera and the confusion come in is in the numerous references to faith. The problem is that the issues get lost behind the references so that you realise Sera’s faith has been tested and that she wants to trust and get back to God more fully, but you’re not always sure what’s happening to cause this transition. As it’s not a transition from faithless to faithful (Sera never speaks of going to church but one can assume she does sometimes) it is a problem. Simply put, sometimes narrative is not clearly explained.
Unclear is the way the inheritance issue is concluded. That William and everyone else is happy is not believable and the grandfather’s plans come across as thoughtless, having emphasised William’s role and not really considered the rest of his family. Yes, it allows William to be able to choose the life he has always wanted, but it leaves his family in the lurch and we’re not given all that much information about it. It may work for William, but are his family going to be happy with what is effectively a loss for them? It’s also not clear exactly why the grandfather decided to change his will and leave the fortune previously left to his family to someone else.
Yet still on the whole, The Butterfly And The Violin works. There is a lot of information about the Holocaust, including much that isn’t covered by your usual school education, and Cambron has taken a path rarely if ever used, applying a specific sort of artwork and using that as the basis for one of the stories.
The romance, too, works very well. Whilst we don’t read all that much about Sera and William, appropriate time passes off stage to suggest they make a good couple and the somewhat inevitable discovery of a shared faith is included to very good effect. Adele’s relationship with Vladimir successfully details both the horrors of WWII and your everyday social prejudice. And both the painter and the owner of the painting may prove to be unexpected (but welcome).
And finally the characters are believable and people you’ll find yourself rooting for. Adele’s impulsive choices are maddening sometimes, but exactly the choices you’d expect a naïve, hopeful person in her situation to make, and whilst Sera becomes cross and can’t always see what’s staring her in the face, again, in her situation it makes perfect sense.
Definitely, obviously, this book will be appreciated most by those who share the characters’ faith, but there is enough here for a general historical romance reader or dual plot line lover to enjoy as well.
The Butterfly And The Violin isn’t perfect, but nevertheless you may find yourself racing through it.
I received this book for review from the publisher.
August 20, 2014, 6:45 am
The whole Christian thing…no
August 20, 2014, 2:27 pm
Whilst I know the books of these two authors are not without their Christian symbolisms I never think of them being Christian authors as their message isn’t too obvious.
Having read a lot of reviews of The Butterfly And The Violin I’m keen to read it myself as opinions seem to vary wildly even amongst those bloggers who usually have similar tastes.
Great review, its good to know where you stand on this one.
August 21, 2014, 12:51 pm
I have heard of this novel but didn’t know there was a Christian element to it. Finding that out has increased my interest in it.