The novel begins in Vienna in 1938. Both parents are professional musicians. 10-year-old Orlanthe (Orly) Zingel’s mother sings opera, and her father plays viola with the Vienna Philharmonic. When the opportunities for Orly’s parents disappear, the family makes the decision to leave Nazi-occupied Austria and escape anywhere Jews are still welcome. Eventually the three obtain visas and are allowed to emigrate to La Paz, Bolivia. (Orly’s older brother stays behind to work with the French Resistance.) Everything is new and different including the language. Orly is the first to find a friend and tackle Spanish. Slowly Orly’s parents find ways to connect with their new environment.
This is not a happy-ever-after story, but it’s an important history lesson in its depiction of refugees being transported to a brand new life in a brand new place. The story reveals a little known or perhaps forgotten part of Holocaust history. Bolivia accepted over 20,000 Jewish refugees during WWII. After the war, some Nazis escaping Germany also emigrated to Bolivia.