The Sound of Freedom is the story of Anna Hirsch, a 12-year-old Jewish girl in Krakow, Poland. The book begins in 1936. Anna, her friends, and family are worried about the rise of Hitler and the increasing anti-Semitism around them. When Anna’s father, a musician, is invited to join the new Palestine Symphony Orchestra, the family has to choose between moving to an unknown land or staying home and facing an uncertain future.
The novel is based on the true story of Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish violinist who created an orchestra to help Jewish musicians find refuge in Palestine. While Huberman is not a main character in the novel, he is integral to Anna’s story because he holds the fate of her family in his hands. (Only 70 musicians are invited to join the symphony.)
There is an ever-present tension in Kacer’s writing, which mimics the anxiety and stress Anna’s family endures. After finally fleeing the violence in Krakow, they mourn the life they left behind and struggle to adjust to a country that is itself facing growing conflict. Kacer does well to focus on how the stress does not simply dissipate after the family immigrates. This is exemplified by one of Anna’s friends, whose family proves to be so unhappy in Palestine they eventually return to Poland. (An author’s note explains that some of Huberman’s musicians did make this choice.) While it’s a heavy reading experience, The Sound of Freedom is a vivid portrait of how exhausting and distressing it must be for any minority group living under a repressive regime. It is also a striking illustration of the difficulties they face when starting over in a strange place.
While the book is geared toward 9-to-12 year olds, it would likely be easier to process for readers at the higher end of that age range. Kacer is not one to pull any punches.