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The Melody of Secrets: A Novel by Jeffrey Stepakoff: A Book Review

The Melody of Secrets: A Novel
Author: Jeffrey Stepakoff
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: October, 29th 2013
Pages: 272
Source: I got this from NetGalley as an invitation from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Jeffrey Stepakoff's The Melody of Secrets is an epic love story set against the 1960s U.S. space program, when deeply-buried secrets could threaten not just a marriage, but a country.

     Maria was barely eighteen as WWII was coming to its explosive end. A brilliant violinist, she tried to comfort herself with the Sibelius Concerto as American bombs rained down. James Cooper wasn't much older. A roguish fighter pilot stationed in London, he was shot down during a daring night raid and sought shelter in Maria’s cottage.

     Fifteen years later, in Huntsville, Alabama, Maria is married to a German rocket scientist who works for the burgeoning U.S. space program. Her life in the South is at peace, purposefully distanced from her past. Everything is as it should be—until James Cooper walks back into it.

     Pulled from the desert airfield where he was testing planes no sane Air Force pilot would touch, and drinking a bit too much, Cooper is offered the chance to work for the government, and move himself to the front of the line for the astronaut program. He soon realizes that his job is to report not only on the rocket engines but also on the scientists developing them. Then Cooper learns secrets that could shatter Maria’s world...

     
     My Review: Huntsville, Alabama is popularly known as “Rocket City,” for it is known for its research in space and for having the largest space camps in the U.S. Stepakoff’s novel, The Melody of Secrets, takes place in Huntsville at the early stages of the space program’s development. After many failed attempts at launching the rockets, Colonel Adams has no choice but to employ German and former Nazi scientists to help build a successful rocket that will launch into space. 

     There are two storylines in the novel that switch back and forth. The first storyline takes place in 1945 almost at the end of WWII in Germany. During the bombings of her town, Maria is preparing for death and playing a solemn tune on her violin. Suddenly, in walks an American pilot, James Cooper, who is not only her enemy but the one who is responsible for the bombing of her town. James Cooper is a fallen pilot on enemy grounds and has sought refuge in a cabin, where Maria lives.

     The second storyline takes place twelve years later in 1957, when Maria is comfortably living in Huntsville, Alabama. Maria is the wife of a scientist and a mother. She likes to hang out with her friends who are the wives of German scientists and military pilots. She is a skilled violinist in the Huntsville Orchestra Symphony and is on the rise of becoming a regional star. However, her simple comfortable life turns complicated when James Cooper re-enters her life.

     Stepakoff writes beautifully about Huntsville’s social environment in the aftermath of the war. There are still prejudices against the German. For example, when Maria was at the gas station, a serviceman refused her service because she was German. Stepakoff also talks about the segregation. Maria believes that the right thing is to be desegregated, but when she makes any attempts, she is met with great hostility and there is prejudices on both sides. There is also a fear of communism. There is also a fear that Russians may have war with the U.S, and they are building bomb shelters in their homes for protection.

     Maria is a strong heroine, and is very relatable. She is a woman that uses her wits to solve problems. She is a loving mother. She is emotionally-damaged from WWII, and often at times she feels vulnerable. She does her best to hide her vulnerabilities. However, she is constantly haunted by her past. She is filled with questions and regrets. She wonders what the present and the future might have been like had she made choices in her past differently. Maria is a woman that strives to make the right decisions.

     Overall, this book is about lost love, choices, and regrets. Stepakoff writes with magic, for each word he writes eloquently flies off the page. Immediately, you are enchanted under his spell--drawing you in, and pulling you deeper into the story and his characters. The characters are beautiful and poignant. Each of them have flaws and dark secrets, but they are still good people. This makes the characters very human and realistic. You are also swept away by Maria’s and Cooper’s bittersweet romance. This is a story that will still linger with you long after you have read the last word on the last page.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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