The Violin Conspiracy Book Club Questions and Discussion Guide

The Violin Conspiracy is full of rich topics for your book club discussion. The story centers around Ray McMillian, a young Black man who is an incredibly talented violin player. Just before he is due to play in the toughest competition of his life in Russia, his highly valuable Stradivarius violin is stolen out of his hotel room and held for ransom.

Who is the culprit? Could it be his family, who feels owed a financial benefit since the violin came from his grandmother, or the family of the original owner, who said his ancestor stole it from them? Or is it an unknown player? Use our The Violin Conspiracy book club questions to discuss these questions and much more.

This book has so much to offer– it explores the history of slavery and racism in Ray’s family, the tension within his current immediate family, a romance, a mystery, and an examination of the professional world of classical music. Our The Violin Conspiracy discussion guide has everything you need to explore this book with your book club, a book synopsis, selected reviews from other readers, and 3 ideas if you’re looking for similar reads.

Get the discussion started around the complex issues in this book with 10 The Violin Conspiracy discussion questions included in the guide.

The Violin Conspiracy book club questions, with book cover orange background.

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The Violin Conspiracy Synopsis

(We always chose to provide the publisher synopsis because we feel that it’s worthwhile to discuss whether the official book description actually squared with your experience of the book.)

The Violin Conspiracy, Brendan Slocumb

Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. But Ray has a gift and a dream—he’s determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his mother, who wants him to stop making such a racket; not the fact that he can’t afford a violin suitable to his talents; not even the racism inherent in the world of classical music. 
 
When he discovers that his beat-up, family fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach, and together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—the violin is stolen, a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place. Without it, Ray feels like he’s lost a piece of himself. As the competition approaches, Ray must not only reclaim his precious violin, but prove to himself—and the world—that no matter the outcome, there has always been a truly great musician within him.

10 The Violin Conspiracy Book Club Questions

These questions have been tailored to this book’s specific reading experience, but if you want more ideas, we also have an article with 101 generic book club questions.

  1. Do you think Ray’s family had a rightful claim to the violin? Why or why not?
  1. “And none of that mattered. No matter how nice the suit, no matter how educated his speech or how strong the handshake, no matter how much muscle he packed on, no matter how friendly or how smart he was, none of it mattered at all. He was just a Black person. That’s all they saw and that’s all he was.”

    Racism is a major subject in this book. How did you feel about the different stories and examples of racism portrayed in this book?
  1. Did you guess who the thief was before it was revealed?
  1. “He did teribl things to my momma and to my brother and to many other slaves. Even tho he did all that I still lookt him in the eye and treetd him with respekt. No mattr how mad I was. No mattr how bad things got. I was always respektfl. Even when I didnt get no respekt. I dont never want you to forget that girl. I wont.”

    Ray is connected to previous generations of his family through the violin. How does the importance of respect impact his ancestors’ lives, and Rays? How does it shape him as a person?
  1. Ray’s mother and grandmother have very different attitudes towards his music. How do their attitudes affect who Ray becomes as a person, and as a musician? 
  1. Beyond it’s musical value, what does the Stradivarius violin represent in this story? What is its meaning, and its worth, to different people in the novel?
  1. “They could toss any piece of crappy music they wanted at him, and he would play. He would not be ignored, denied, or embarrassed ever again. He was a musician, and music had no color.”

    How does Ray finally become his own confident person? Do you think you would have been able to withstand all the challenges he faced while working towards his goal?
  2. How would you feel if you were Ray’s family, or the family of the slave owner? Would you be happy to let Ray play the violin, or would you feel you were owed something?
  3. What do you think about Ray and Nicole’s relationship? Did it seem authentic to you, or were you surprised?
  1. This novel is in parts a mystery, thriller, historical fiction, and coming of age story. Do you think all these worked well together? Were there some aspects you liked better than others?

Selected Reviews for The Violin Conspiracy

(Use these selected Goodreads reviews to compare with your own experience of the book. Do you agree or disagree with the reviews?)

“The novel tries to combine a Bildungsroman novel with a more suspenseful storyline but the two don’t quite mesh together. The flashbacks into Ray’s teenage years do add context to his life and the violin but they fail to make him into a more rounded character. I found him rather flat, at times a little more than a vehicle to move the story forward. I would have liked for him to have a more defined personality and a more developed characterisation. Other characters were similarly one-dimensional, Ray’s mother in particular. She’s portrayed as a horrible person: every scene she is in she says something awful. She has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and I could not understand why Ray would bother with her at all.”

“This book grabbed me and kept me engaged throughout. I just kept finding ways to keep listening to it. Make sure to read/listen to The Author’s Notes. There were times during the book I couldn’t help but wonder if the scenes were a little over dramatic. And then Slocum explains that they were episodes taken from his life.”

“I read the author’s note and I understand that he had to put up with a lot of the unfortunate racist attacks just because he is a black boy/man trying to play violin. As a black woman I can certainly empathize with the author. However, I think it would have been better if he had written a nonfiction novel so that people could properly bear witness to all he had to endure. Because putting in so many examples of racism into THIS book did not add to the story. It only served to neglect other elements.”

“I appreciated that this story shone a light on someone who is gifted in music, someone whose life is music, someone who had a bleak future ahead, finding courage and determination and growing into a decent man. Yes, Ray faced prejudices and the author made that quite apparent in the telling, but Ray was no quitter and he sallied forth with the sage advice of his grandmother. The story was interesting and made many valid points about discrimination against the black community in the area of classical music which hopefully have diminished.”

NEED BOOK CLUB IDEAS?

Use our guide to find dozens of book ideas for your group.

3 Books Like The Violin Conspiracy

The Violin Conspiracy was a Good Morning America book club pick. If you like their curations, check out the follow guide for other GMA books: Lessons in Chemistry guide, The Maid guide, The Personal Librarian guide, Klara and the Sun guide, The Midnight Library guide, Lions of Fifth Avenue guide, and The Vanishing Half guide.

Horse, Geraldine Brooks

This novel is another complex exploration of racism, history, and relationships through time. This novel focuses on the horse racing industry, and the varied characters are brought together through one famous horse named Lexington.

The story links characters, from enslaved people in 1850, to the art industry in 1950’s New York, to scientists and historians in 2019 Washington D.C. This is another excellent book to examine the impact of racism through the lens of a specific professional field.

Read this one for book club and use our Horse discussion guide.


Take My Hand, Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Beginning in 1973 Alabama, this story follows nurse Civil Townsend as she sets out to make a difference in her African-American community. Civil struggles with her assignment to assist with birth control for young poor Black girls, which eventually leads to permanent sterilization.

We see the shame of forced sterilization through the viewpoints of Civil as a young woman and at an older age nearing retirement, the affected community, and through a young lawyer fighting for the rights of the community.


Body and Soul, Frank Conroy

For another exploration of music and it’s redemptive qualities, look no further than Body and Soul. Living in squalor in 1940’s New York, young Claude Rawlings is brought out of his dismal surroundings because of his prodigious musical talent. Claude is swept up into a vastly different life, thanks to his talent and kind mentors.

This novel follows the hardships, music, and discovery Claude experiences in his life, all thanks to his intimate relationship and love of music.

Authored by Lacy Challe
She’s is an avid reader who lives in Wisconsin with her husband, two children, and dog. She has loved reading and writing about books since childhood, and eventually earned degrees in Comparative Literature and Library and Information Science. She loves analyzing books and providing recommendations to family and friends.

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