About the book

In the 1940s, musician Rafael Ullmann is sent to a Nazi concentration camp. In the 1970s, Annie Ullmann lives a lonely life on a Canadian prairie. Three decades later, in Australia, Joe Hawker is uncertain about himself and his future—until he discovers a song, written by his grandfather many years ago. This is my Song crosses three continents and time-line, and charts the need for each of us to find our own music—and sing that music with conviction and grace to those whom we most love.

Book cover - this is my song by Richard Yaxley.
Published by: 
Scholastic Australia

About the author

Richard
Yaxley

Richard Yaxley has written novels for adults and young adults, plays, poetry, school musicals and many books for the classroom. His verse novel Drink the Air won the 2010 Queensland Premier's Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. He lives and teaches in Brisbane, Australia.

Author - this is my song by Richard Yaxley.

Judges’ comments

In this rich, beautifully written and multi-layered novel, we follow three generations of the one family and travel between three continents. Rafael Ullman, an aspiring musician born in Bamberg, in Bavaria, is little more than a child when he is sent to a Nazi concentration camp. He survives this horrific experience, in part by his musical ability. Following the war he moves to the wilds of Canada with his wife and daughter and later joins his daughter and grandson in Australia.

These different settings become almost characters themselves with the cold and privation of Auschwitz affecting the actions and interactions of the characters there. The vastness and loneliness of the Canadian landscape isolates the family and provides a kind of protection from the outside world. In Canada Annie, Rafael's daughter, befriends a goshawk which becomes an important character and a symbol of friendship and flight. The heat of Brisbane contrasts strongly with the previous settings and reflects the greater freedom Raphael's grandson has in comparison to his mother or grandfather at the same age.

All the characters are beautifully and convincingly drawn such as Rafael's poor, deluded father who believes until it is far too late that his admiration for Rilke will be shared by the Nazis and will protect him. Rafael's mother tries to cling to normality in Auschwitz by carrying out Jewish rituals as best she can. There are many other people who move in and out of the lives of the main characters, adding a richness and depth to the narrative.

Each section of the book is told by one of the family—Rafael, Annie and finally grandson Joe. Each narrative voice is authentic and utterly convincing. The triptych structure allows the reader to understand more about each character than they, or their family do. The horrifying revelation, which comes as such a shock to Annie and Joe after Rafael's death has already been disclosed to the reader who is in a privileged position as onlooker. The music that allowed Rafael to survive becomes part of the burden of guilt he carries as a survivor and he won't permit music in his home. After his death, however, in a beautifully crafted and deeply touching moment, the story comes full circle. His grandson finds a yellowed sheet of paper with music written by a man the reader knows to have been Rafael's first music teacher and lyrics by Rafael himself, which Joe sings in a music competition.

There have been, of course, many novels about the Holocaust, including ones for younger readers. This book explores the way the terrible events of the Holocaust affect the generations following, sometimes in ways even they don't understand. This is My Song also explores the damage that secrets can do. It is poignant, memorable and intensely moving.