Synopses & Reviews
From the best-selling author of The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series comes a delightful and moving story that celebrates the healing powers of friendship and music.
It is 1939. Lavender—La to her friends—decides to flee London, not only to avoid German bombs but also to escape the memories of her shattered marriage. The peace and solitude of the small town she settles in are therapeutic . . . at least at first. As the war drags on, La is in need of some diversion and wants to boost the town's morale, so she organizes an amateur orchestra, drawing musicians from the village and the local RAF base. Among the strays she corrals is Feliks, a shy, proper Polish refugee who becomes her prized recruit—and the object of feelings she thought she'd put away forever.
Does La's orchestra save the world? The people who come to hear it think so. But what will become of it after the war is over? And what will become of La herself? And of La's heart?
With his all-embracing empathy and his gentle sense of humor, Alexander McCall Smith makes of La's life—and love—a tale to enjoy and cherish.
From the Hardcover edition.
A heart-warming stand alone novel about the life-affirming powers of music and company during a time of war, from the best-selling and beloved author of The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency
When Lavender, La to her friends, moves to the Suffolk countryside, it’s not just to escape the London Blitz but also to flee the wreckage of a disastrous marriage. But as she starts to become a part of the community, she detects a sense of isolation. Her deep love of music and her desire to bring people together inspire her to start an orchestra. Little did she know that through this orchestra she would not only give hope and courage to the people of the community, but also that she would meet a man, Feliks, a shy upright Pole, who would change her life forever.
About the Author
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Vers series, and the 44 Scotland Street Series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He lives in Scotland.
Reading Group Guide
1. Who are the two brothers in the beginning of the novel? Why are they visiting La's former house in Suffolk? And why does Alexander McCall Smith commence the novel with them? Why does he purposely make their background vague?
2. Why does La marry Richard? Are they compatible in any way? How does time and place influence their decision to get married? Do you think they would have gotten married if they were dating in 2009? At one point later in the novel, La says to Mrs. Agg, "People are the products of their time." What does this mean? Do you agree?
3. In this novel, what are the differences, both obvious and subtle, between life in the city and life in the country in the days before and during World War II? Where would you have preferred to live?
4. Why is Suffolk life so therapeutic for La when she's single again? Do you think she really likes gardening? How is a wartime garden different from a peacetime garden, according to La?
5. There are many references in the novel to suffering in life and the power of music to heal and to provide hope and joy. What is it about music that gives it these properties—and in this novel, particularly classical music? How is different music good for different things, according to the novel? Do you agree?
6. How is music the antithesis of war?
7. How does La's orchestra raise morale and provide a diversion and hope to those playing instruments as well as to the townspeople in the audience?
8. What is the importance of Henry Madden in the novel? Why is he so stubborn and bitter? After being blamed by his wife for the death of his son, why does he, in the absence of any proof, accuse Feliks of being a thief?
9. What do you think the author is saying about xenophobia— the suspicion and hatred of foreigners and "others"—especially during wartime? How do you think things have changed from the 1940s to the present?
10. How did the war transform lives in this novel, turning some upside down in a negative way and others in a positive way?
11. Do you think this is an antiwar novel or do you think it says that war is inevitable?
12. Why does La betray Feliks although she acknowledges that she is in love with him? Do you think she was scared of her feelings for him and this exacerbated her suspicions?
13. Why is La also suspicious of Lennie (who is different from most boys his age), and why does she accuse him to the police with no proof? Does the heightened atmosphere of war cause her to not trust anyone?
14. Describe La's relationship with her Cambridge tutor, Dr. Price. Why is it so fraught with tension? Do you think if La hadn't married, she would have turned out more like Dr. Price?
15. Why does the author, near the end of the book, suddenly switch from the third person to the first person, so that we suddenly hear the story in La's voice? How does this affect your reading of the novel?
16. In the book, "people took pleasure where they could find it, and with gratitude." How are people able to do this, especially when things are in short supply?
17. By the end of the novel, how does music bring love back into La's life?
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