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January 28, 2011

Book Notes - Thaisa Frank ("Heidegger's Glasses")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Thaisa Frank's debut novel Heidegger's Glasses immerses the reader into the world of the Compound of Scribes, a group of multi-lingual spared concentration camp inmates who answered letters sent to others sent to concentration camps in World War II. Surreal and emotionally engaging, the book is filled with compelling characters and Frank's precise prose, and is an unforgettable and important work of literary historical fiction.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Taking readers to a curiously polyglot netherworld, a population removed from the horrors of the Reich even as it deals in some of its most intimate dispatches, Frank's vision of the Holocaust is original and startling, with compelling characters and a narrative that's both explosive and ponderous. "

In her own words, here is Thaisa Frank's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Heidegger's Glasses:

When I think about the music I listened while writing Heidegger's Glasses I first think of the ambient sounds I heard everyday. For three California winters I heard rain pounding the skylights, the printer humming, cats' paws thudding on my desk. Except for the rain, I heard the same sounds during the summer. In place of rain was a gurgling fountain. These sounds had a harmony of their own. They were chattering, inanimate office mates.

Heidegger's Glasses, takes place in Germany during WWII and when I started the project I continued my usual iPod shuffle--ranging from Cat Power to The Gotan Project, Jimmy Yancey to Natalie Merchant. And always Bob Marley and The Cranberries and The Nashville Bluegrass Band.

The first time I considered music connected with Heidegger's Glasses was when I wrote a scene in which the Commandant of Auschwitz plays classical music on an old phonograph to drown out gunshots. I flipped through memories of music my parents listened to--they liked classical music--and I decided the Commandant should play Beethoven's Pastoral, because it was so out of place in the situation. But after listening to the Pastoral, I decided the dissonance was heavy-handed and remembered Mozart's Piano Concerto in C, which my boyfriend gave me in college. It joined my iPod shuffle. The Commandant played it, too.

Since I studied piano perhaps it's not surprising that I chose the Concerto or made the one of the characters a pianist, although at the time I didn't give it much thought. Nor did I give it much thought at first when she played Scarlatti sonatas. Then I listened to Scarlatti and remembered how much I loved playing his sonatas and the sense of a clean, well-ordered world. I found as many Scarlatti piano sonatas as I could and they also joined the iPod shuffle.

At some point--perhaps toward the middle of the novel--I began to watch documentaries about WWII, documentaries in which Germany's national anthem at the time was played again and again. I heard this anthem in a curious way--distancing myself, trying not to hear it. Perhaps I listened the way people who were threatened by, or unsympathetic to the Nazi Party listened.

In one documentary, however, I found a song that became emblematic--a song I then listened to again and again. This was from Lotte Leyna's German recording of The Three Penny Opera. It is called Solomon in English, Saloman in German. I first heard it on a documentary about Leni Riefenstahl. While Riefenstahl insisted that she didn't know about the concentration camps it was played over and over, like a dirge. The song sounded less ironic in German than it does in English. It sounded mournful. The rhythm is insistent and relentless. It washes over Riefenstahl's denials like waves.

I also listened to Cat Power, blues piano by Jimmy Yancey, and The Cranberries. Each piece of music felt close to the novel or the act of writing it. The Cranberries and Cat Power are close to the feelings of love and betrayal that persisted in Germany during WWII. And Jimmy Yancey's piano seemed closest to the way I seemed to disappear when the writing went well. His blues are deceptively simple--as though the piano is a guitar and he is picking out tunes. I always see him at an old upright late at night in a smoky Chicago bar. There's a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and he's playing as if no one is listening.

Thaisa Frank and Heidegger's Glasses links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Book Illuminations review
Books and Movies review
Historical Novel Review review
Huffington Post review
Reading the Past review
The Road Goes Ever Ever On review
Rundpinne review
Unabridged Chick review

Diary of an Eccentric guest post by the author
The Divining Wand guest post by the author
The Divining Wand interview with the author
Fictionaut interview with the author
Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books interview with the author
Write On Online interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

Online "Best Books of 2010" lists
Online "Best Music of 2010" lists

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists