Category: Children's Books

Martin Baltscheit
Major Dux oder Der Tag an dem die Musik verboten wurde! Erlebt und notiert von Bartolomäus Bob
[Major Dux, or the day when music was banned! As experienced and described by Bartholomew Bob]

Review

A story about the power of music and the strength of love.

In his book Major Dux, Martin Baltscheit has borrowed aspects of many different genres of literature, music and film to create an exciting, timeless story. Much is at stake in this book: liberty, resistance, the tangled course of love and the power of music. With his illustrations, which are far more than mere illustration of the text, Baltscheit also takes a step in the direction of the comic strip. The graphic design of the book is an essential part of the story: sound volume is presented visually by means of different colours and sizes of type, many pages have a black background because the protagonist is in a tunnel, and when the legendary trumpeter Chester Brown, totally absorbed in his own music, plays his instrument the words dance down from above like musical notes.

Major Dux tells the story of a coup d’état carried out for the sake of love (although we learn that only at the end). One day every kind of music is suddenly banned. Even the birds mustn’t twitter any more. Music survives only in the hidden, underground places to which jazz musicians resort, but they too are found by the Sound Police, and the last brave musicians fall into a trap. They include the first-person narrator Bartholomew Bob; Betty Butterfly, the famous singer, who has only recently turned from a fat, ugly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly; and the legendary trumpeter Chester Brown. He succeeds where all the rest have failed: with his golden tone he bring the walls of the prison tumbling down. Set at liberty, the characters march in a triumphal procession to the Ministry of Sound and Acoustics to confront the much-feared Major Dux, who seems to be behind the music ban. But here a surprise awaits them: the Major is not a terrifying giant but only a lovesick duck, who wanted to hear nothing but the singing of his adored Betty Butterfly.

Told in exciting and straightforward film noir style, this jazz fable develops a captivating dynamic of its own, reaching a truly surprising climax with the successful punch-line. The tone of voice chosen by the author is so casual that one almost expects to see Sam Spade suddenly appear, arm in arm with the great figures of bebop. It is sheer pleasure to “experience” this book, for reading alone is not what makes the story. Rather, it will prompt readers to immerse themselves in the period to which it refers, listen to its music, watch its films, and learn something about its typically laconic way of tackling large subjects – just in passing.
Heike Friesel

By Heike Friesel, 02.08.2007

Translated by Anthea Bell