An Aha Moment and Three Books

Have you read a novel in which one of the characters was an aggravating distraction? You couldn’t relate to the decisions they made and, frankly, they made you angry. I recently read The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb, and one of the characters had that effect on me.

The Violin Conspiracy is an excellent novel about a young black man, Ray McMillian, who is highly skilled in playing classical violin, has limited resources, and even less support. His grandmother, the only person in his life who encouraged him, gave him her father’s old violin and he got a music scholarship to college where he excelled. To his great surprise, he finds out that his great-grandfather’s old violin is a Stradivarius. Suddenly, everyone is interested. The violin was stolen a few months before a major Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, and the story is about the search for his violin, his relationships, his confidence, and his character.

What I didn’t understand while reading the novel was the lack of encouragement from his family in spite of his obvious gifts. His mother had no use for classical violin or a college education and wanted him to get a job at Popeyes to help pay the bills. It seemed selfish and ridiculous.

Meanwhile, I was reading Translation Your Past: Finding Meaning in Family Ancestry, Genetic Clues, and Generational Trauma by Michelle Van Loon, a book encouraging us to look into our family’s past, learn from it, and take it into our futures, and Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen: The Emotional Lives of Black Women by Inger Burnett-Zeigler, PhD, about the difficulties of the “strong black woman” who feels she has to hold up the world while ignoring her own needs, both of which introduced me to the field of epigenetics, “the study of changes in genes that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence – suggests that the effects of trauma may be inherited.” (Nobody Knows, p. 47) Van Loon says, “Every living organism turns on and off its own specific genes throughout its life span. Researchers have discovered that information hitchhikes atop our DNA, passing from one generation to the next. This information holds a record of, among other things, trauma, shock, and loss.” (p. 74)


I realized there was a potential explanation for Ray’s mother’s fear and financial insecurity. Her grandfather had been a slave, her mother was a strong black woman who had learned to hold her head high, but she had also suffered trauma and discrimination, and no doubt his mother had as well. Yes, she could have been simply selfish, but more likely she was motivated by a felt need to protect her family and she couldn’t imagine a world in which her black son would succeed in the predominately white profession of classical music. In fact, Slocumb said he wrote the book because black men and women don’t get enough respect or opportunity to develop excellence in classical music.

The field of epigenetics, about which I know next to nothing, opened my eyes to a different perspective and helped me to better understand a character in a novel. Hopefully, I will be able to apply that insight to other situations and to people I interact with every day. I highly recommend all three of these books.

Have you had a similar aha moment from reading a book…or three?

Photo by Eva Mtalii on Unsplash

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