The Opera Sisters
by Marianne Monson
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Pub Date 06 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 20 Sep 2022
Shadow Mountain Publishing, Shadow Mountain
British sisters Ida and Louise Cook enjoy their quiet, unassuming lives in south London. Ida writes romance novels, and Louise works as a secretary. In the evenings, the sisters indulge in their shared love for opera, saving their money to buy records and attend performances throughout England and Europe, becoming well-known by both performers and fellow opera lovers.
But when Hitler seizes power in 1933, he begins targeting and persecuting German Jews, passing laws that restrict their rights and their lives. The sisters continue their trips to the German opera houses, but soon, Jewish members of the opera community covertly approach the sisters, worried that they will be stripped of their wealth and forced to leave their homes and the country. Danger looms on the horizon, threatening to spill across all of Europe’s borders.
Ida and Louise vow to help, but how can two ordinary working-class women with limited means make a difference?
Together with their beloved opera community, the sisters devise a plan to personally escort Jewish refugees from Germany to England. The success of the plan hinges on Ida and Louise’s ability to smuggle contraband jewelry and furs beneath the watchful eyes of the SS soldiers guarding various checkpoints. But how many trips can they make before someone blows a whistle? Or before the final curtain falls on Germany’s borders?
The Opera Sisters is a riveting and inspiring novel of two unlikely heroines whose courage and compassion gave hope to many Jews desperate to escape Nazi persecution.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 38 members
“The Opera Sisters” by Marianne Monson tells the true story about Ida and Louise Cook, two British sisters who, during WWII, worked to bring refugees, mainly Jewish, from occupied territory to the UK. Ida had written a book about their story called “Safe Passage,” which was reference material for this book.
Judging the book itself, not being a fan of opera, I found the first part of this book, while setting up the background of the sisters and how they came to travel to Germany to attend opera festivals, to be rather slow moving. There was a bit too much opera discussed for me, but maybe opera fans might enjoy that section. The book picked up a bit of pacing when Ida and Louise are approached by mutual friends about taking jewelry to England, followed by the women working to help those who needed to escape from the continent. I found the last part of this book again a bit slow, but it was summarizing the sisters after England went to war with Germany - effectively closing the borders and not allowing the sisters to physically travel to Germany. The fact that these women helped so many was interesting - especially how they did it. I also found the sections where “other stories” were included - such as a mention of the Spanish War affecting Pablo Picasso - interesting for an overall “this is the timeframe, here’s what else was going on.” In fact, in comparison to Ida’s book, which I also read, those sections give the book more depth - which I enjoyed. This book was interesting, but I found myself skimming a bit at the beginning (as I mentioned opera’s not my thing) and a bit toward the end. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.
THE OPERA SISTERS by MARIANNE MONSON is a beautifully written book based on the true story of Ida and Louise Cook, two ordinary women who loved music and opera, who did an extraordinary job saving as many Jews as they could from annihilation during the Nazi madness leading up to and during the second world war. The author has obviously done a grear deal of research and has used true stories which bring home to the reader the atrocities performed by Hitler and his regime against anyone who they saw as inferior. I like to see families showing incredible courage and patience as they hope to be reunited, and the love and compassion shown by Ida and Louise as they work tirelessly to obtain guarantees for the desperate people who come to them for help.
I cannot recomend The Opera Sisters highly enough. It is an inspirational read in which the author champions God’s Chosen People who suffer the consequences of anti-semitism, and honours those who, often at great danger to themselves, help them. It is not a book that I will forget in a hurry!
i was given a free copy of the book by NetGalley from Shadow Mountain Publishing. The opinions in this review are completely my own.
A truly amazing story! What these two women did and sacrificed to save others from the horrors of WW2, is truly inspirational. The lives that were saved and touched by these women are tremendous. They were national heroes, who did not do it for glory, but to save those they could. A must read!
Thank you to #NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
The Opera Sisters by Marianne Monson is a great WWII-era historical fiction that is based on a true story of selflessness and courage of epic proportions.
I found this true story based on Louise and Ida Cook, two British citizens, and their stunning and courageous action that helped smuggle and save at-risk Jewish individuals living in Germany.
This is a new story for me. I had not heard of these sisters participating in extraordinary acts. It is just amazing how one can read so much about WWII, and yet there are always new facets to pick up and experience.
The author did a great job setting the scene, adding rich historical detail and imagery, adding secondary and contemporary events to help give a broader perspective and timeline, and tied the fact and fiction together to give us a beautiful, gripping, and emotional journey of two women, joining forces with other “normal citizens” to help save innocent souls, and that helped in their own way, right some of the wrongs and atrocities that took place during this time. If only more people could be like these strong and courageous women.
A great read shedding light on a fabulous story.
Thank you NG and Shadow Mountain Publishing for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.
I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 9/6/22.
This was absolutely stunning. The plot was well-paced and captivating from start to finish. The characters were brave, courageous, and inspiring. I highly recommend this moving read! Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the advanced copy of the book.
I was drawn to this book by its beautiful cover, its connection to opera, and the tantalizing promise of a story based on real-life events of English sisters whose love of opera allowed them to help Jews to escape World War II Austria and Germany in order to begin new lives abroad.
The story did not disappoint, and this was a fascinating World War II historical novel..
Ida and Louise Cook are middle class British women, whose jobs as secretaries are largely dull. But they develop a passion for opera and attending concerts. This passion, combined with hopes of one day traveling abroad to visit the great opera houses, adds a dash of excitement and sophistication to their lives. Ida also manages to develop her hobby writing romance stories into a career with serial publications, allowing them to squirrel away their new earnings.
Both women are transformed by their first visit abroad, to Salzburg’s famous music festival, and by subsequent trips to Frankfurt. As their love for German and Austrian opera houses grow, they begin to make friends with those in the opera world, and learn that the situation is growing increasingly dire for the Jewish population as Hitler’s grip on power tightens.
At first, they are convinced to smuggle out precious jewels and furs owned by prominent Jewish families that will provide those families needed funds when they are able to flee their homeland. Soon, Ida and Louise are traveling back and forth and acting as guarantors for the refugees, and seeking other British families who will do the same.
Monson follows both the Cook sisters and the lives of the Jews they help escape, and the stories are both moving and gripping. My only complaint is that the novel is, at times, too sweeping in scope. As a reader, we were already following quite a large cast of characters, so hopping around to events such as the bombing in Guernica that inspired Picasso’s famous canvas, or Hitler and Chamberlain’s conversations, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor and numerous others should not have been handled as separate scenes, but rather discussed through conversations by the characters to keep us more grounded in the story.
Despite that, I greatly enjoyed this historical novel, and highly recommend it.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this novel, in exchange for an honest review.
This is a very interesting book based on two sisters who are obsessed with opera. They travel to performances and meet beloved divas.
It is during a trip to Germany that they unwittingly assist a Jewish family escape to London. This leads to a commitment to assist as many families as possible. They do this by finding sponsors which means lobbying their friends and acquaintances in London.
I have read several books with similar plots but this one was a different twist. The sisters are brave, inventive and successful….all with a backdrop of opera.
I highly recommend this book.
WW2 is a frequently written about theme, especially through the point of view of people who couldn't look the other way. Even as I predicted how the story would develop, I didn't know about the Cook sisters or their story.
By reading, you can tell the author did their research and, even when changing the narrative of what truly happened, it was based by true events and real people. It has a solid pace and it's an incredible piece of historical "fiction".
At times, I found myself skimming some parts, but it was a lovely read. It's astounding how history is repeating itself in so many ways.
I feel like i already knew this was going to be a high-rated book for me by how many lines I highlighted in only 20 pages.
Thank you so much to NetGalley for this ARC.
First of all the cover is beautiful and caught my attention immediately. I really thought I would love this book but it was just okay for me. That being said there will definitely be an audited for this book that will love it.
The Cook sisters, like so many others during WWII, were amazing and are to be commended for their work in aiding so many people. I loved that it was based on a true story.
What I didn't love was the sometimes overly wordy and descriptive prose, especially those pertaining to the opera. I found myself getting bored by it. Another thing that was hard for me was the little anecdotes throughout the story describing different events. It was like reading a novel and then all of the sudden reading from a text book.
But like I said, there will be an audience for this book and I think the author did the sisters justice with her story.
Rounded up from 3.5
I’m not a huge fan of opera and I don’t know much about it so that aspect of the story wasn’t my favorite. (Hence the 4 stars)
I loved the war and rescue parts of the story- it was very well done.
It was interesting to hear how they didn’t anticipate war, but when it came I liked the descriptions this author gave of the shelters and how the people carried on in spite of all the hardships.
The sisters in this book were so brave and generous and compassionate to the strangers they helped. A great read!
The Opera Sisters spans two decades, from 1923-1947, with the bulk of the story taking place in the late 30s and early 40s as WW2 is brewing and the Nazis are coming to power. Sisters Ida and Louise Cook are opera superfans, living and working in London and saving every spare coin for opera tickets. They end up befriending several big name opera singers as well as a German conductor. Through these friendships they begin an operation of helping facilitate the escape of refugees from Nazi controlled Germany and Austria. Based on a true story and real people, The Opera Sisters is a beautiful and of course tragic read.
The format of the book’s chapters worked really well for me, where instead of standard length chapters, it was more set almost as little stories/essays, some as long as a typical novel chapter but many only a couple paragraphs. With the amount of time this book covers, the stories managed to be succinct and clear, making it easy to follow the timeline even when a year or more passes between chapters. The only thing I didn’t love were a few of the opera descriptions felt really lengthy and not in a way that necessarily added to the book for me.
Overall I liked reading both about the people making their escapes and also the experiences of the Cook sisters as they did everything within their power to help.
I received a complimentary e-copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Thanks to NetGalley and Shadow Mountain Publishing for the opportunity to read and review.
I love this of book tbe front cover is also eye catching. Plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader hooked.
A gripping and intense read
If all history books were written like this book everyone would want to study history! This book is based on true events and characters and it is fantastic. Louise and Ida are sisters living in England after the end of Worlds War I and they witness the events leading up to the second world war. They are normal women of little note working in regular jobs that have no glamour attached to them and living with their parents in London. But everything begins to change when they decide to buy a gramophone that introduces them to the wonder of opera. After experiencing operas on the gramophone, they determine to attend an opera in person. After much scrimping and saving they attend their first live opera and get to meet the star. When she mentions the grandeur of European Opera, they determine they will attend there. Through a series of surprising meetings, they become friends with many of the performers and some of their friends, and family members many of whom are Jewish. As the Nazi fervor begins to increase, they are approached and asked if they will aid in the rescue/escape of these people. When they agree that first time, they have no idea the impact and changes that one choice will have on their lives and the lives of others. This book is intense in part because you know these are real people making hard choices with heavy consequences. It pulls you in as you wonder if any success is even possible and rejoice when there is a success or fight tears when best efforts fail. There are frequent footnotes throughout the book and a section where the author notes the changes she made and the reasons why. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the copy. This is my review and all thoughts are my own.
What a story! Based on the lives of two English sisters and their courageous acts of kindness during WWII. The two working class sisters led quiet lives the most notable aspect of which was saving their lunch and bus fare money to purchase tickets to the opera.
Through chance meetings with members of the opera they become friends with some of its most prominent stars, and when the time comes for the Salzburg festival the sisters save their money to attend.
While in Germany they met stars of the stage who, feeling the political tides changing ask the unsuspecting sisters for help, help in getting some of their Jewish friends out of Germany, for fear of deportation or worse from Hitler's Nazis. The sisters agree, though they think their friends are over reacting. But as tensions increase and the sisters return to Germany they see the changes themselves and admit the danger for the Jewish people are real.
Louise and Ida Cook were just two single working women who enjoyed splurging every once in a while to attend the opera. They didn't set out to be heros. After helping the first family, the requests for their help came pouring in, they continued making trips into Austria and Germany despite the ever increasing danger right up until the time that war was declared between England and Germany effectively trapping the remaining Jews in a country that was trying to extinguish them.
This story is amazing. These are the kind of stories that fill my heart with joy. The kindness of strangers in a time of crisis. That these two ordinary women were able to persuade so many to help complete strangers is so amazing. And the fact that so many despite their own hardship circumstances were willing to extend themselves a little further and help these people who without their compassion would most assuredly have ended up in a camp or dead is amazing. It makes me wonder what would happen if we were faced with these situations today? Would people step up and help or would they, in today's "me first" society turn their backs and walk away? Could we ever experience the coming together as a nation, united by a common enemy and helping selflessly as the unsung heroes of WWII did? the more I read the more I marvel at all the acts of heroism, given freely and selflessly by so many ordinary citizens, it is truly awe-inspiring. I will continue my quest to read as many of these stories as I possibly can, to honor the heroic men and women of that time.
This book comes out in September, two days before my birthday, it will be my present to myself.
Thank you to the publisher and to Net Galley for the free ARC, I am leaving my honest review in return.
Ida and Louise Cook were two courageous sisters who showed their bravery in a time when most of us would have been terrified to go against authority. Leading up to the Second World War, they helped as many Jewish people as they could, not only escape Germany, but secure homes for them to live in in the safety of other countries. I had no idea when I requested this book that it was based on a true story, and that made me love this story even more.
The author included tons of historical articles and information in this book, which helped the reader understand what was happening at that time, bit could sometimes feel a bit long. There were parts of this book I feel could have been condensed, but overall it was a beautiful and inspiring read.
Thank you to NetGallery and Shadow Mountain Publishing for my advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest feedback.
One of the reasons I love historical fiction is the fact that I always learn something new. I was not aware of the Cook sisters and their bravery prior to this book. This novel follows true accounts of Louise and Ida who literally risked their lives on multiple occasions to help Jewish people escape Germany leading up to WWII. I’ve never read a historical fiction novel with footnotes at the end of most chapters. I’m on the fence on how I feel about it. Part of me prefers to read a story straight through without pause between chapters. However, I learned so much from the footnotes on what truly occurred and how certain historical accounts or timelines were shifted and woven into fit Monson’s narrative.
I did enjoy that there were chapters highlighting real individuals the Cook sisters worked with to get out of Germany. However, some chapters had only a half a page and it seemed to flip-flop around a lot from Ida and Louise characters. As a reader, you’re really rooting for everyone to have a happy ending despite knowing millions of Jews were murdered. This story is an a heartbreaking rollercoaster. I appreciate authors like Monson who shed light on these lesser known historical heroes and victims of the Holocaust.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It definitely had more historical accuracy and context that some other historical fiction novels that others may find more difficult to read. However, as a history lover, I found this very pleasant to read and want to read Ida’s memoir.
I am drawn to WWII era fiction - the resiliency of the people fighting for freedom is astonishing - and really enjoyed the Opera Sisters. I hadn’t read much about efforts to find British sponsors for adults and found that interesting.
Wow! What a story! These two sisters did so much to help those trying to flee from Nazi death. I can't even imagine the guts and grit these women had. I applaud them.
This story was commendable. I will admit that I did not love the writing style, but I got used to it. The characters were well developed, the story line riveting.
Here is my favorite quote. '“It is easy to think there are sharp lines dividing the good people and bad people , but most humans have dark passions inside waiting to be stirred up. It’s easier than we think to become convinced that decency is for the weak, that democracy is naïve, that kindness and respect for others are ridiculous. The whole world has been reminded these past few years that the things we care about have to be nurtured and defended because even seemingly good people have the potential to do hideous things.'
How true that is for today in our society and it what is currently happening in Europe. We can learn alot from history, we just don't seem to be doing so.
A WWII novel about Jewish refugees to England. Which was something that I knew nothing about. You learn something new every day. I'm not going to live this one had me crying at times.
Absolutely fantastic and unique! The way the author mixes the fiction and nonfiction by footnotes at the end of the chapter instead of an author’s note at the end of the book gives the reader a unique blend of what happened in the story and what really happened and keeps reader enthralled,
British sisters Ida and Louise Cook use their love of opera as means to travel back and from between Germany and England while saving the lives of Jewish people.
Lately, it seems like every time I read historical fiction, I learn something new. This book was so different. I had no idea these two women existed and I was completely unaware of their bravery. Also, while I knew London got hit hard during this war, I found myself really saddened by just how hard. I wasn’t aware how many civilians lost their lives. I also didn’t know that Hitler actually did declare war on the United States and looked forward to taking her down. So this book was quite an education.
What worked really well for me:
This book was very well researched. From opera to historical facts, research poured into every page. Footnotes were included at the bottom to give resources from where information came from.
There was a lot of emotion in this story. There wasn’t one character that didn’t make me feel something.
The story itself was brave and bravely told. It kept a good pace but the story itself kept you going, wanting to know what was next and who was saved. And who didn’t make it.
What didn’t work for me:
The ending seemed a little abrupt. Although, that could have been me because I really wanted to know so much more about these ladies.
If you don’t know opera, there were some spots that got quite technical. I grew up on opera so I was able to fully appreciate those moments.
Out of all the historical fiction you may read, make this book one that you do.
This was a great story to read. I loved the storyline and the characters, definitely recommend this book!
Quite long, sweeping and very well done historical fiction, beautiful cover! Very much enjoyed this true account of the Cook sisters and their efforts during early WWII wartime.
The Opera Sisters is a riveting, first hand account of two remarkable women, Ida and Louise Cook, who single handedly saved 29 families from the atrocious slaughter of Adolf Hitler's Naziism. Their life story occurs in London, England beginning in the summer of 1934 when Ida was nearly 30 years old. Louise was her older sister. At the time, they lived with their parents and their two brothers Jim and Bill.
They loved opera and they loved the voice of Rosa Ponsell.e. They pinched pennies so that they could see her when she came to perform in London. Through meeting her they met Klauss and Viorica. These two were instrumental in putting them in touch with many, many people who were trying to escape Hitler's reign against the Jews. The Cooks used the guise of opera to travel to and from war torn Germany and other countries. They went out of their way to secure passage to London for the refugees they were able to save.
Ida was a romance novel author under the pen name of Mary Burchell, and Louise was a civil servant. Ida used her own money to assist in paying for several of the refugees keep. One of them, Maria, had a fiancee who escaped and ended up in Brazil. She and her mother, Irma, had tried to join him while he was in Switzerland, but we're thwarted. Ida and Louise were able to get them to London. There they were caught in a bombing and Irma died. Eight years later the Cook sisters were able to reunite Maria with her fiancee in Brazil where they married and had a child.
The sisters went through great peril and frustration to save these people. And they grieved the ones they were unable to get out. All but two people they assisted survived and led productive lives. The two that didn't make it were Georg. who was saved with his wife and daughter. He committed suicide. The other person was Irma, Maria's mother, who was a casualty of war.
The war ripped through several countries, including the US, and killed more than 2,000,000 Jews. The Holocaust was horrendous! I believe there were four men whom the Cooks were unable to save and ended up in concentration camps. Well, four ended up there but two of them got out and were transported to London.
Rosa Ponselle ended up moving to the United States. She got married and retired. The sisters vowed they would go to the US. They hoped to see her sing again. Speaking of which, when London was liberated, Ida and Louise had a sort of opera party, during which Rosa phoned them. Of course they were thrilled to hear from her and she sang while on the phone for all to hear. In the end of the book, which was at the end of the war, the Cook women were finally able to travel to the US to see Rosa and many of the people they'd saved and who ended up there.
There is no account of the sisters ever having married. Ida published 112 novels. Her first eight year's worth funded her and Louise's efforts. She died of cancer in 1986. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Thank you NetGalley for a glimpse into these incredible women's lives.
WW2 stories are always a go to for me. Each historical fiction book I read will forever enlighten my views and I discover new details I was never aware of. The Opera Sisters did not disappoint! Ida and Louise are two working class sisters who vow to help as many Jewish people as possible. They save every cent they can to visit the opera. The ladies travel back and forth to operas as much as they can. It is there that they meet some high powered big names. Though the writing was a bit wordy, and the opera scenes was very technical, the research was thorough and I felt as though I was living in the time period. The way the sisters rescued families was heartfelt and heroic. I had never heard of these sisters before, and I am so happy to have read about their heroism. I highly recommend!
Thank you to NetGalley, Marianne Monson and the publisher for the eARC.
This was a great book! I usually find it hard to get into adult fiction, but I enjoyed the writing style and found the story compelling enough to continue reading. I would recommend it to anyone who liked history.
POWERFUL! That is the one word I can use to describe Marianne Monson’s story of Ida and Louise; two twenty something year old sisters, through whose love of opera, began a long and arduous journey to lead 29 families, but many many more individuals out of Germany and German occupied lands during the lead up to WWII. Ida uses her own money and makes many loans that she thinks she will never be able to repay; she enlists friends, family and strangers through her talks with church groups and others to sponsor Jews trying to flee Germany beginning in the early 1930’s. The book follows them all through WWII and the liberation. Fascinating were the side stories and how the author wound these into this historical fiction novel. The descriptions of what Londoners and those all throughout England endured during the Blitzkrieg and beyond was amazing. The tremendous amount of research was astounding. I laughed, I cried as I followed the Cook sister’s and what they did sacrificing their own safety many times over to help those less fortunate. Their courage was a testament to all the English people.
This is one of the most concise, well-rounded, extremely well-researched WWII books I’ve read. I loved the opera spin and I really enjoyed learning about these two amazing sisters and all they accomplished. Highly recommend.
The Opera Sisters by Marianne Monson is based on the true story of Ida and Louise Cook, sisters living in south London with a shared love of Opera. The two save their money to buy records and attend performances throughout England and Europe and they become well known in the Opera community. At first glance, they are unlikely heroes but you come to learn that even with minimal means they were able to save 29 Jewish families from Nazi Germany, starting when Hitler seized power in the early 1930’s and began passing laws that restricted the rights of Jews in Germany. It was a great story to read and learning about the Cook sisters was fascinating.
Thank you to NetGalley, Shadow Mountain Publishing and the author for an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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