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February 26, 2018

Book Notes - Anne Raeff "Winter Kept Us Warm"

Winter Kept Us Warm

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Anne Raeff's novel Winter Kept Us Warm is a is an impressive book that examines themes of family, love, and the effects of war through several generations.

The Los Angeles Times wrote of the book:

"In many ways, this is a novel about absence―the absence of those most harmed by the war; the emotional absence felt inside relationships, romantic or otherwise . . . It is about the choices people slide into almost by accident that end up shaping their lives, and how this becomes clear only with the wisdom of hindsight. This kind of drama is quiet and subtle, but Raeff knows how to wield her words in this space, and makes small pronouncements devastating . . . These characters are in the thick of their lives, and Raeff shows us their fullness in quick sketches, the way a skilled artist may convey movement and attitude with only a few penciled lines."

In her own words, here is Anne Raeff's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Winter Kept Us Warm:

Opening in Morocco

1. Moroccan popular music: Cheb Mimoun: Smahli Ya Galbi

Berlin Before the War

2. Mozart Piano Concerto 20 K 466

3. Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K 622

War Songs

4. "Henrietta's Wedding"

5. Marlene Dietrich: "Johnny:"

6. Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey: "I'll Be Seeing You"

New York after the War

7. Billie Holiday: "All of Me:" Oliver plays it naked in the bedroom:

8. Artie Shaw: "Begin the Beguine:" Oliver's favorite:

Back to Morocco

9. Moroccan wedding music:

Street wedding musicians:

Moroccan women musicians:

I am honored to have the chance to create a playlist for my novel Winter Kept Us Warm. I have organized it according to where it appears in the novel, but there are three different categories of music represented. Since the present storyline of the book takes place in Morocco, Moroccan music begins and ends the soundtrack. The second category contains two pieces by Mozart and represents Berlin before the war. The third category contains popular songs from the World War II era. They include Billie Holiday, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, and Marlene Dietrich. This music appears in the book first when the protagonists are in Berlin in 1945 just after the war is over and continue to be part of the musical atmosphere when the protagonists move to New York.

Some of the music in this playlist has been part of my life since childhood. Although the dominant sound of my childhood was classical music, my mother also loved jazz and a chosen few international popular singers. She had an extensive collection of original Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf 78 box sets as well as numerous Marlene Dietrich records. I had my first lessons in the power of nostalgia while listening to these records with my mother before dinner on cold, winter evenings when the days were at their shortest.

Morocco has also taught me many lessons that have found their way into my writing. My wife and I made numerous trips there when we were living in Madrid in the early nineties and continue to visit our close friends there. It is the place in the world where I have experienced and witnessed the most intense kindness and hospitality, yet it is also the place where I have felt the most fear for my personal safety so that every day in Morocco I felt as if I were confronting all the contradictions of human nature at once. These contradictions can be heard and felt in Moroccan music and, I hope, in my writing.

The first item on my playlist is a popular song by the famous Moroccan singer Cheb Mimoun called "Smahli Ya Galbi." This is the song that I imagine blasting in the taxi at the beginning of the book. Isaac, one of the three protagonists, is in Meknes, Morocco on his way to see Ulli, who owns and runs a hotel in town called the Hotel Atlas. She does not know he is coming, and they have not seen each other in forty years. He is in his eighties and is exhausted from a long journey—the plane ride from New York to Tangiers, then a train from Tangiers to Meknes. It is extremely hot. He suffers from asthma and can barely breathe.

The next two items are my two favorite pieces by Mozart. In Winter Kept Us Warm, Ulli and her mother listen to Mozart after they get the news that Ulli's mother's parents have been killed during an air raid in England. Ulli's mother is British and her father is a German businessman, who profits from the war though he has no passion for National Socialism. Ulli grows up entirely in Berlin and has only met her British grandparents once when she was very young. Her parents are distant from her and from each other. During this scene, Ulli is struggling to feel the sadness of her grandparents' death. When I was an adolescent I must have listened to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 hundreds of times. Even now when I listen to it, when the piano first comes in, it always brings tears to my eyes. The Clarinet Concerto I got to know later in life, but I have listened to it hundreds of times as well. I have included it because it is so beautiful and because the clarinet is essential to the book.

The next three songs are from the World War II era. They go with the sections of the book that take place when Isaac, Ullli, and Leo, the third member of the love triangle, are in Berlin during the first couple years after the end of the war. The little that my father knew of popular culture was what he learned in the army during the war, so this is how I know a few Frank Sinatra songs and "Henrietta's Wedding." When I was growing up, every once in a while something would remind him of one of the songs from his army days, and he would start singing it. I remember there was one about a women being two-faced that he thought when he first heard it said, ". . . when women are toothpaste." At that point, (he arrived in the United States in 1941)he was still learning English. I included Marlene Dietrich also, though she does not appear in the book, because her songs are so much part of that time. "Johnny" is my favorite of her opus. It represents, I think, Marlene Dietrich at her sultriest and saddest. "I'll Be Seeing You," by Frank Sinatra was recorded in 1944, so it could have been playing in the bar where Ulli makes her living interpreting for American GIs and their German girlfriends in 1945 when the three protagonists meet.

The next two songs appear when the trio are living in New York. Isaac and Leo go to see Billie Holiday at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and it is at this concert that Leo meets Oliver, who will become his lover. Oliver is a clarinet player—hence the importance of the clarinet in the novel. Oliver's favorite song is "Begin the Beguine" and his musical hero is Artie Shaw. Ulli also loves Billie Holiday, and when her marriage is falling apart, she listens to her songs for hours at a time.

The novel ends in Morocco and, thus, the last music must be Moroccan. The climax of the book takes place during a wedding in Meknes, so the rhythms of this traditional wedding music pulsate through the pages of the penultimate chapter.

Anne Raeff and Winter Kept Us Warm links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Los Angeles Times review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review

Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for The Jungle Around Us
San Francisco Chronicle profile of the author
San Jose Mercury News profile of the author
ZYZZYVA interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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