Quattro Books (“Home of the Novella”) has just published an endearing gem with Tomas and the Gypsy Violin. It is the story of Frank and Anna Lewitt, who adopt a seven-year-old Romani (formerly ‘Gypsy’) boy named Tomas after seeing a news report of the persecution of Roma in Eastern Europe. Told by Adam, Frank’s son from a previous marriage, he pleads:
This story is different. It is personal and painful to tell…..the little boy’s story cries out to be heard. Please don’t judge us too hard- it was all new to us.
Tomas does not adapt very well to life in Toronto and Frank and Anna are at their wit’s end as to what to do to help him. He remains in his room, is not interested in TV, toys or much else for that matter and speaks very little, although Adam suspects he knows more English than he lets on. It is only by accident that a breakthrough moment occurs when, while passing a music store, Tomas is fascinated by a violin in the window. Adam takes him in and discovers that Tomas can actually play the instrument! Upon returning home and telling Anna about it, she remembers a small trunk that accompanied Tomas from Europe contains an incomplete, damaged violin. Things start to fall slowly into place: violin repairs, lessons, going to school (an ordeal in itself) and finding friends both within Toronto’s small Roma community and outside of it.
In it’s eighty-some pages, author Robert Eisenberg tells a story that all ages can enjoy. After I finished reading it (perhaps reading it too quickly, but one just has to know what happens to Tomas along the way) I thought how interesting it would have been if some of the chapters told the story from Tomas’ perspective as a stranger in a strange land. Then I thought, no. The story unfolds is as if it is all new to us too. Often, we may feel awkward around children not our own, but how much more so when the child speaks very little, comes from a background we are unfamiliar with and shows little to no interest in activities or even in other children. Engrossed in the narrative, we sail along with Frank, Anna and Adam on a voyage of frustration and disappointments, but elation as well when something positive happens and Tomas starts to bloom. We learn along with them as Tomas often plays the role of teacher.
The author, in his “Briefest of Forewords” states: “Tomas and the Gypsy Violin acknowledges the book’s connection to the Roma community and to Sistema Toronto, whose young musicians were its inspiration.” Sistema is an organisation that teaches music to children with the added bonus that the participant’s attendance, marks and conduct improve. In fact, the author has dedicated his share of the earnings from this book to Sistema Toronto and its affiliates. The Sistema New Brunswick web page is here.
As mentioned earlier, this is a book suitable for all ages, and it is especially ideal for a young adult reader in that it teaches mutual respect as well as understanding and that everyone – young or old – has something special to contribute to help us grow as human beings. Bravo, Mr. Eisenberg!
Robert Eisenberg was born, raised and lives in Toronto. He is married with four children if, as he does, you include sons-in-law, and two grandchildren, all of whom live in Toronto. The three books he has written all take place in Toronto