The Mozart Question


The Mozart Question

by Michael Morpurgo,

Michael Foreman

When cub reporter Lesley is sent to Venice to interview a world-renowned violinist, the journalist is told she can ask Paolo Levi anything about his life and career as a musician, but on no account must she ask him the Mozart question. Paolo has finally realised he must reveal the truth.


This book is slotted into the children’s category but I don’t think it belongs just there. It’s a super short read, with lovely illustrations scattered throughout the book. Michael Morpurgo’s writing makes this little book into something you will never forget. I should mention that I only read this book because it caught my fancy and frankly, I wasn’t even aware of what the Mozart question was or what the matter of the book was.

So, imagine my surprise when I read the book and fell in love with it. The author managed to write a story that at once seemed best suited for children but it also doubles up for adults. It certainly made me cry and I am not ashamed of it. It was a good kind of crying. I don’t think I can properly review it with words, the things I felt when I read this are indescribable.

The novel starts with a question. What made you a writer? It’s a story of a young woman who is lucky enough to interview one of the great violinist of her time, Paolo Levi. She’s new enough that she is surprised when given the assignment but it turns into one of the best assignments of her life. She’s told not to record the interview but to use shorthand, not to ask the Mozart question (She wasn’t even aware that there was one!). With excitement and dread in her heart, she travels to Venice from London and meets the great Paolo Levi.

Since she was given strict instructions not to ask the Mozart question, she starts the interview by blurting out that she won’t be asking him the question, even admitting that she doesn’t even know what the Mozart question is. Paolo surprises her with mint tea and the story of his life. The story unfolds and the answer to the Mozart question is revealed. The story of the Mozart question is haunting.It is also a tale of survival, trauma, Holocaust and above all, about love. Familial love, romantic love, simple love for another human being.

This book moved me to tears and I think if you read it, you will be moved to tears too! I thought it would be a quick afternoon read but it turned out to be so much more. In simple words, the author created magic here. The pain Paolo’s parents suffered through, the way Signor Benjamin Horowitz had to live his life after the war, thinking his dear friends had passed away after all, the way Paolo’s father never ever played his violin. There are so many things that are touching and sad and lovely about this story that I can’t pick one to make a case for it.

Music is such a big part of the book and the violin plays an important role. From Paolo’s father’s violin to the well-tended violin belonging to Benjamin, to the one that Lesley gets to touch at the end of the book. Music shaped everybody involved and it shows. Just thinking about it is making my eyes water, the tears might spill over but I don’t mind in the least.

This book, I think, is wrongly categorized as children’s book. It is much more serious and made of a bit more adult issues than I am comfortable with, this book shouldn’t be in the 8 to 12 years category. Maybe secondary school level or even further. I think it’s the look of the book that deceives people into thinking it’s for a much younger audience. It’s definitely not. Eight to twelve year old children wouldn’t be able to understand it, or be able to start a dialogue with their parents or friends. If there was a minus point of the book then it was just this. The age problem.

Michael Foreman’s illustrations paint a pretty picture of Paolo’s life in Venice in his younger days. The lovely use of blues in the book of Venice and the contrasting gray of the concentration camp illustration is absolutely bang on. I have absolutely no problem with the illustration.

I think it is a book everyone should read at least once because once you read it, it will be with you for your entire life. It would touch something deep in you and you wouldn’t be able to forget it. It’s a quick read with long-lasting effects.

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