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Hannah Waters and the Daughter of Johann Sebastian Bach

by Barbara Nickel

Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins is the link in this absorbing novel, in which music reaches across the centuries to connect two girls – a modern 12-year-old recently transplanted to Saskatchewan and the daughter of J.S. Bach in 18th-century Germany.

Barbara Nickel is the Vancouver author of a previous young adult novel about music, The Secret Wish of Nannerl Mozart, as well as a poet and an accomplished violinist. Her understanding of the demands of the instrument and the joy of playing it underlie every page of the novel. She is empathetic, too, with the problems of many musically gifted children, including uncomprehending schoolmates, parents who are unappreciative or over-enthusiastic, and frustration when fingers don’t respond quickly and accurately.

But the two young girls of Nickel’s title have deeper problems as well: Hannah has lost her mother before the story starts, and Bach’s daughter Catharina loses her mother during the course of the novel. The pain of these losses is movingly conveyed by Nickel, who imagines the two girls becoming aware of each other and drawing strength and comfort from this awareness. No actual time travel takes place, but as each girl thinks about and performs the Bach concerto, she becomes conscious of the other, just as the two violinists in the double concerto are aware of and responsive to each other.

While some of the problems of recognition and communication are resolved too easily at the end, Nickel writes with kindness and insight about the girls and their families, and gives a sense of the healing power of music to draw people together.