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The early nineteenth-century German composers and pianists Felix Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny Hensel are familiar to many people, but few are aware of their younger siblings, Rebecka and Paul. Mendelssohn & Co. is an imagined portrait of this gifted Berlin family, whose lives were shaped by crucial developments in German culture and politics. It is told in the first person, through the eyes and memories of the youngest child, Paul, a gifted amateur cellist and a Berlin banker in the family firm of Mendelssohn & Co. Though Paul's youth is overshadowed by the early fame of the musical prodigies, he outlives his three siblings and becomes a quiet mainstay of his extended family. After the premature deaths of Fanny and Felix in 1847, Paul struggles to protect their legacies and to guide their orphaned sons. His story is closely based on the historical record, but the scenes and dialogues Paul reconstructs are fictional, as are many of his private thoughts and meditations. His personal concerns include the ambiguities of their status as privileged Jewish children baptized into the Lutheran faith, the rapid growth of German and Russian railway lines financed by Mendelssohn & Co., and the shift from classical to Romantic styles in music.
During her career as an English professor, Rosemarie Bodenheimer specialized in Victorian and Modern novels and autobiographies. Fascinated by the links between a writer's letters and fiction, she developed a form of textual biographical criticism in books about George Eliot and Charles Dickens. At retirement, she explored an unusual archive of family letters and journals that led to a book about her parents and grandparents, who fled Hitler's Germany in the early 1930s to build new lives in the United States. Mendelssohn & Co. continues her practice of weaving stories from letters, biography and history, and extends her focus on German Jewish lives back into the 19th century. Attempting to bring the Mendelssohn family dynamics to life, she took a new turn into biographical fiction, and drew on her experience as an amateur cellist and chamber musician.