What if you had a great singing talent and, after years of hardship and grueling training, you had the opportunity to achieve international fame and fortune? What if you had to compromise your integrity and moral conscience to become a star? Would you?
This is the dilemma of Maile Manoa, the heroine of Williams’ sweet historical novel, Aloha, Mozart (November 2012). An impoverished native-born Hawaii’an of mixed heritage, Maile is gifted with a full-range contralto singing voice that is conducive to any musical genre. But when, in sixth grade, she hears a recording of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi, she realizes she was meant to sing opera—virtually unheard of in her home. She sings for a living at weddings, church functions, on a radio show, and in a Honolulu hotel. After being “discovered” by an international diva on tour, Maile begins to study under Madame Renska in New York, then continues her training in Salzburg during a time of tense Austrian political unrest and turmoil. There, Maile finds love and betrayal with a fellow student, corruption in diplomatic circles, and deeply rooted Nazism underscoring the world of classical music. When she is offered a starring role by a world-renown conductor with a nefarious past, she is forced to choose between her “me, me, me” diva’s desire for recognition and her own innate moral convictions.
This was a really pleasurably eye-opening read, especially since I am partial to Mozart and fascinated by opera. Williams, a native Hawai’ian, brings to her debut novel firsthand knowledge of the history and culture of not only her home, but that of Austria and Germany, where she sang opera for ten years. A talented, accomplished writer, she graces her story with lilting phrases and stunning word chords that musically captivate the reader’s imagination. Reading Aloha, Mozart is like listening to a symphony by Mozart, so lightly flowing and delicately intricate are the author’s prose, plotlines, scene descriptions, protagonist development, and character interactions.
However, while this is a sweetly sinuous read, it is not sugarcoated. The author pulls no punches when relating the harsh realities of Hawai’ian native life in the 1960s; Soviet tanks at the Austrian border; the staunch strictness of Salzburg police; and the corruption, betrayal, and stark cynicism underpinning what seems, at face value, to be the glamorous world of classical music. She is straightforward and brutally frank about each of her characters, especially Maile, whom I cheered for in the beginning, was concerned about in the middle, and almost angrily chided at the end. Well, almost.
This medium-length, 275-page novel transports the reader across three continents and two oceans, immersing one’s imagination in the myriad intricate nuances of two cultures that are bridged together through Maile’s great talents and her sometimes misguided ambition. Aloha, Mozart is great literary fiction; a book that should be well noted and added to everyone’s reading repertoire.
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