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THE SPEED OF LIGHT: Most Powerful Scene in Literature?

[This is one of the most powerful scene's I have come across in literature. Isaac, a Jewish symphony conductor, speaks to Paula, a Jewish opera singer who has lost her voice after the shock of learning details about her father’s suffering at Auschwitz. As a ten year-old, the father's job had been to arrange bodies on a pallet so that when they were cremated the fat would collect efficiently for later use. Her father would never discuss what happened, but she wanted to know and had asked someone she met in Europe on tour who knew him in the concentration camp.]

Isaac pounded his chest, gestured with his powerful conductor’s arms. His eyes were so bright and fierce, he looked like he wanted to shake me until I could hear him, until I could swallow the rage he was offering me.

“Hate them, if you need to feel something, but don’t turn against yourself.” He took a deep breath. “Okay, grieve. Be silent for a while. For a while, understand me? Let your voice rest, okay. That’s a good thing. But don’t give the murderers any more chances to kill. They’re finished. And we’re still here, singing, making music. And when you decide to sing, you know what? Sing for them, right? What was she, seven, eight years old? She never even got to play a full-sized instrument. So that’s what you can do to honor the dead, you can sing for her. You can play all the notes she never got to play. It’s your violin now,” he tapped me on the breastbone. “Right here.”

“They thought they could make us disappear, and every trace of us too, as if we had never existed at all. But somehow we carried art all the way out of the ashes, created our way back into the world. And every time I stand on my podium, every time I lift my baton for the first sound, I’m thinking about how to repay my debt to the dead.”


[The film version of Liz's book will be Gillian (The X-files, Bleak House) Anderson's  directorial debut]

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thanks Monty

Your blog posting is much appreciated, and it's an honor to see my words quoted here.  [Might I mention a slight typo...?  The word "chill" in your post is here where it ought to read "kill."  I promise not to psychoanalyze...!]

Thanks for your offering.

Keep writing!



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Thanks for pointing that out. Freudian slip, no doubt. Golden proof that editors will always have a job.

Such a powerful passage. I had to share it.