Fiction, Historical, literary fiction, race, thriller

Book Review: The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

“Music’s the gift. Caring’s the gift. And you give it to others now. There are a lot of ways apart from a concert hall to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Ray is a young, black man who loves playing the violin and he is good at it. His family is not supportive, especially his mom who tried to get him to stop playing and instead get a job at Popeyes for a stable paycheck. He ignores her and continues to play with borrowed violins from school. One Thanksgiving, his grandmother – the only family member who believes in his talent, gives him her father’s violin and when he goes to clean it up he finds out that it is a Stradivarius, a priceless type of violin. This becomes a blessing and a curse as his family suddenly takes interest in it and want to sell it and split the proceeds.

Another family, descendants of the family that enslaved his great-grandfather, also come forward and claim it belongs to their family and sue Ray. On the blessings side, Ray’s profile rises and he starts booking gigs and qualifies for the Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music. A competition no American has ever won. Everything seems to be going great until the Stradivarius goes missing. Ray is suddenly under pressure to find his violin while also practice for the competition.

“Second, he learned that doing what you loved may not be enough, that all the passion and perseverance that roared like blood within you could be trumped by factors that you could never control—factors like the color of your skin, or the shape of your eyes, or the sound of your voice.”

I really enjoyed this one for many reasons but mainly because this book wasn’t just one thing. The book managed to be a family saga, a thriller, a book about following passions, overcoming the odds and also exploring the ugliness of our nation’s history. I liked how Slocumb built the story of Ray’s career as a violinist. We got to be there from the beginning and go through his obstacles and breaks and it felt realistic. As a black person, reading some of his obstacles pursuing a character that the world has stereotyped as “not black”, you understand because every black person has faced being put in a box and being told what you can or can’t do.

“And none of that mattered. No matter how nice the suit, no matter how educated his speech or how strong the handshake, no matter how much muscle he packed on, no matter how friendly or how smart he was, none of it mattered at all. He was just a Black person. That’s all they saw and that’s all he was.”

I will say though, at a point I thought Ray’s experience with racism was A LOT but then reading that Slocumb incorporated everything that he himself (a violinist as well) had experienced in real life and I had to snap myself back to the reality of being a black person in America and navigating a mostly white career world.The other part of the book is figuring out who could have stolen the violin. In a rare occurence, my guess on who it was, was actually correct.

I recommend this book. It engaged me and I wanted to find out what would happen next. I read this one but I have heard that the audio is quite good. On a random note, I am curious why there are two different covers for this book.


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