Saturday, October 4, 2014

_The Story of the Trapp Family Singers_: Seven Reasons to Read It

"God's will hath no why," writes Maria Augusta Trapp...

Last week, however, an onslaught of hand-foot-and-mouth had me inwardly groaning "why, why?" as my kids and I languished on the couch and compared rashes.  While cabin fever is mainly what ails us now (too much time to push each others' buttons), at least we had the opportunity to connect over the movie The Sound of Music-- which brings to mind another of Maria's favorite sayings:  "When God closes a door, He opens a window."  My three-year-old loves role-playing Liesl, and seemed to dwell in the role for three days straight; while my two-year-old channels Gretel in the "So Long, Farewell" number...  And they both enjoy the "part where the Nazis are chasing them" to a degree that sort of disturbs me.  (Nazis are fun?)

As for me, I went ahead and requested the book...  Finally!  I've only been meaning to do this for, oh, how many years now?

And I found it well worth the effort!  Here-- for the Quick Takes linkup, however belatedly-- I offer:

Seven Reasons to check out The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (Maria Augusta Trapp, 1949)

1.  To compare it with the movie, natürlich!  Among other differences, the family-- escaping a summons to perform at Hitler's birthday celebration-- flees Austria quietly by train in 1938, just days before the borders are closed; and Georg's proposal to Maria is, ahem, awkward.  (And irresistibly cute!)

2.  Rich detail on Austrian religious traditions.  Across two chapters Maria recalls the rhythms of Advent and Christmas, Carnival, Lent, and Easter as experienced in prewar Salzburg.

Many of the practices are both beautiful and wonderfully down-to-earth.  For example, on Palm Sunday worshippers did not receive palms, but gathered boughs of pussy willow or whatever convenient bush or tree grew on nearby; and after these were blessed, the people then left the branches at various points on their property so as to return a blessing upon the soil.  "How lovely and practical!" say I, contemplating that vaseful of dried-out palms on my dresser.

3.  That funny chapter about cousin Peter who did everything "by the handbook."  Talk about compulsive personality!  Maria shapes his role in a family camping trip into a sweet, humorous bit of nostalgia.

4.  To cry with them.
"We all went into the chapel silently. . . . 
"'Austria,' he [Georg] said, and tears choked his voice, 'you are not dead.  You will live on in our hearts.  This is only a sleep.'"
 I just couldn't hold back my own tears during Maria's account of that terrible moment in which the Austrian government announced its capitulation to the Third Reich-- or during her narration of Georg's final illness.

5.  Maria's humorous descriptions of culture shock in America.  From the details of daily life (Shoes are shined at the barber shop?  Diapers are pinned, not tied?) to Americans' blunt manners and rootless living, Maria spills on prewar Transatlantic differences while giving lots of love to our hospitality and can-do attitude.

6.  To learn a little more about music!  I found myself looking up such pieces as Bach's "Jesu Meine Freude," Gibbons' "The Silver Swan," and Brahms' "The Day Has Come When Thou and I" ("Ich Fahr Dahin"). And did you know that the hymn "Now Thank We All Our God" had been composed-- or at least co-opted-- by Bach?  I hadn't.

7.  Overall-- it's simple, warm, and heartfelt, with a buoyant sense of God's Providence and Maria's headstrong, irrepressible personality.  And plenty of facepalm moments!  (Those nuns were right:  She's trouble.)

....And just a couple of caveats:  Maria's old-fashioned approach to discipline-- heavy on spanking, zealous to ward off personal vanity-- made me squirm, as did her midcentury "Negro" references.  (The book first appeared in 1949.)

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!  And please visit Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes.


  1. I love all Maria's books! I love the catholic life permeating throughout.

    1. Me too! I found myself fantasizing about life in a society that supported Catholic culture to this degree (although of course this situation would have its own disadvantages).

  2. I like your list of reasons. The movie musical is excellent so I wonder if the book has the same feel to it.

    1. Thanks! I'd describe the book's tone as upbeat, optimistic, humorous, sincere... However, I found it much less romantic than the movie! (That wonderful tension between Georg and Maria during the folk dance? It wasn't lifted from the book.) And the characters encounter some prosaic difficulties, such as illness and financial distress... For escapism, I'd go to the movie-- but I'd reread passages from the book for inspiration.

  3. Your list of reasons is very interesting! I enjoyed the movie, this sounds like a great book.

  4. Sounds like a winner! I'll have to check our local library on our next visit.

    1. Thanks-- I hope that you enjoy it!!