Montecito author pens epic novel about courage, friendship during World War II
It took 10 years for Nathaniel Lande, a longtime Montecito resident, to write his newly published 434-page tome, “While the Music Played: A Remarkable Story of Courage and Friendship in WWII” (Blackstone Publishing, $29.99).
The effort was well worth it, according to the author, who said, “Of the 12 books I have written, this is my signature work. I wrote it for an older readership to remember and refresh and for younger ones to experience time and place during some of the most terrifying events of World War II.”
Beginning in 1939 pre-war Prague, “While the Music Played” focuses on the story of 12-year-old Max Mueller, a budding musician, piano tuner and nascent journalist. When his father, Viktor Mueller, is conscripted into the German army and finds himself increasingly promoting the Nazi message, Viktor’s best friend, noted Czech composer Hans Krasa protests the occupation in every way he can.
As everyone Max loves is compromised by intolerable conditions, he becomes increasingly isolated and is forced to find his own way. Music is the one constant connecting him to the lost childhood he cherishes and the man he still hopes to become. But will it be enough to sustain him against the relentless Nazi threat?
Mr. Lande told the News-Press that the genesis for the book actually began when he was studying for his doctorate in 1992 at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
“During my research, I learned about Terezin, which was located near Prague,” Mr. Lande said. “It was a hybrid concentration camp and ghetto established by the SS during World War II. It served two main purposes: It was simultaneously a waystation to the extermination camps, and a ‘retirement settlement’ for elderly and prominent Jews to mislead their communities about the Final Solution.
“It was promoted and advertised as a spa for intellectual and artistic Jews, but it was really a transition camp for Auschwitz,” he said. “Its conditions were deliberately engineered to hasten the death of its prisoners, and the ghetto also served a propaganda role.
“During the International Red Cross Inspection in 1944, the camp was transformed into Potemkin Village, a deception and scam of enormous proportions. More than 88,000 people were held there for months or years before being deported to extermination camps and other killing sites.”
The author said he chose music as a theme throughout the book because “music has many dimensions. It transgresses time and place. It is spiritual and magical. It evokes happiness, sadness, memories. There are many landscapes to it. When I listen to a symphony, I hear the strings respond to the brass, who in turn respond to the woodwinds, and it all comes together magically.
“Music has always amazed me. If I weren’t a writer, I would be a musician,” said Mr. Lande, a man of many facets.
Born in Montreal, Canada, he grew up in Augusta, Ga. He attended Avon Old Farms prep school in Avon, Conn., earned his bachelor’s degree at Duke University and studied at Oxford University’s Wadham College in England.
His accomplished career spans publishing, television and films, including stints as creative director for TIME Inc. Magazine Group; director of TIME World News Service; a founding director of TIME-Life Films; executive director for CBS and NBC television networks; and producer/director for made-for-TV “movies of the week.”
Mr. Lande served as a special White House aide for two U.S. presidents — John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He was married to Linda Hope, daughter of Dolores and Bob Hope, and they have one son, Andrew Lande, a food and wine writer.
He and his wife Natalya Chamkin, a former Russsian ballerina, moved to Montecito in 1999.
When asked if there is another book in the works, Mr. Lande said, “Nothing definite. I’m always noodling, always thinking and exploring.”
“While the Music Played: A Remarkable Story of Courage and Friendship in WWII” by Nathaniel Lande is available at Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State St. in Loreto Plaza (805-682-6787, chaucersbooks.com), and Tecolote Book Shop, 1470 East Valley Road in Upper Montecito Village (805-969-4977).