Friday, September 23, 2016

Echoes of past and present in stunning audiobook

I have never heard a more beautiful audiobook than the Newbery Honor novel ECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of some 40 books including award-winning Esperanza Rising and The Dreamer.

The story, or actually several entwined stories, is haunting and important to the times we live in as it deals with the fallout of bigotry, injustice, and hatred. The book begins with a fairy tale that introduces a magical harmonica whose destiny is to save someone’s life.

 Over time, the harmonica passes into the hands of Friedrich, a boy in Nazi Germany who yearns to be a composer but is bullied because of a birthmark on his face. The mouth harp gives him solace as his family is torn apart and he is threatened with being put in an asylum.

 The harmonica finds its way from Friedrich to Mike, an orphan living in an institution in eastern U.S. with his younger brother. The instrument brings him comfort and hope that he might save them from an even worse fate.

 Finally, another musical prodigy, Ivy, the daughter of itinerant farmworkers in California, is given the same harmonica. Ivy faces discrimination at school and sees it at the vandalized farm her father is trying to maintain for a Japanese-American family sent to an internment camp. Despite all this, Ivy finds a sense of pride and purpose in her growing musical skill.

 The audiobook brought me to tears more than once as it infuses the children’s heartrending stories with glorious music performed on cello, piano, and, yes, harmonica.

 Music on the recorded version is by Corky Siegel, a blues harmonica and piano player who composes for symphonies and chamber orchestras.

 ECHO is so good I want to read the print version to savor the words on the page, but I also want to listen to the audio again for the sheer delight of Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and more. I got the audiobook from the library, but this is one I’d love to own.