Mu­si­cal ma­sonry

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Entertainment - MARK GLANVILLE

JIRÍ WEIL OPENS his novel Men­delssohn is on the Roof (Daunt Books, £9.99, trans­lated by Marie Winn with a pref­ace by Philip Roth), de­tail­ing the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of Prague, with a clas­si­cal ac­count of the great flood. The god­dess of jus­tice (Themis, not Themida as she is mis­named here) in­structs the two sur­vivors of the del­uge to cast be­hind them stones that will be­come the next hu­man race.

In the en­su­ing nar­ra­tive, the statue of Jus­tice is one of sev­eral sculp­tures that are de­stroyed. An­other rep­re­sents the Jewish com­poser Felix Men­delssohn.

Much ef­fort is spent iden­ti­fy­ing and re­mov­ing his statue from the roof of the opera house so that Rein­hard Hey­drich, the Prague-based ar­chi­tect of the Fi­nal So­lu­tion, can watch a per­for­mance of Mozart’s Don Gio­vanni (where an­other statue drags the opera’s an­ti­hero off to hell) in Aryan peace.

In a mar­vel­lous con­ceit, the Nazis’ ven­er­ated com­poser Richard Wagner’s statue is al­most top­pled in­stead, af­ter some­one de­cides his large nose marks him out as the Jew.

Hein­rich Heine, the great 19th-cen­tury Jewish poet, fa­mously as­serted that “where they burn books, they will also burn peo­ple”. For books, Weil sub­sti­tutes stone.

The “learned Jew” who has been or­dered (and failed) to iden­tify the statue of Men­delssohn is also en­gaged in as­sem­bling the col­lec­tion of Ju­daica that will fill the Nazis’ in­fa­mous Mu­seum to an Ex­tinct Race.

Weil, who, af­ter fak­ing sui­cide, sur­vived to wit­ness the fail­ure of the Nazi en­ter­prise, dy­ing in 1959, would have rel­ished the fact that the mu­seum’s arte­facts were to fea­ture among the first stones cast in the re­gen­er­a­tion that fol­lowed this mod­ern “del­uge”.

Hey­drich’s cher­ished Meis­sen sculp­ture — nat­u­rally, stolen from Jews — is, con­versely, de­stroyed as surely as its ma­lign ap­pro­pri­a­tor whose as­sas­si­na­tion Weil re­counts.

Irony is his strong­est suit. Though the novel is struc­turally un­even, fact and fic­tion are in­ter­wo­ven in clean, pre­cise prose and Weil is un­afraid to con­front un­palat­able hor­ror head-on.

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