Apr 07, 10
Read in March, 2010
Fifteen years ago the author visited the Tugendhat house in Czechoslovakia which is the house upon which this novel is based on. Designed by Ludwig Miles van der Rohe it is considered an icon of modern architecture. So highly regarded is it that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the information available the house in this book would appear to be a replica of the real house and is the one centre piece constant throughout the novel in a world of chaos and disintegration.
Despite the historical backdrop which encompasses the Nazis, war, communism and all the rest it, the house remains, a symbol perhaps of the indestructibility of the human spirit and hope for the future. This is primarily a story of optimism. Throughout the story all the characters are looking to improve themselves and their lives, always looking forwards. And it follows, for once, that for a story about war and destruction it does actually have a happy ending.
Liesel and Viktor (who is Jewish) Landauer commission the house to be built in 1929. Its erection coincides with the pregnancy and birth of the couple's first child, symbolic of the new life as a family within the walls of the house. The plot follows the well known history of the time with the taking over of Austria and then Czechoslovakia by the Germans, the refugees who arrive in the locality, anti semitism and how it all affects this family, their friends and associates. The family escape to Switzerland in 1938, leaving the house to its fate, and after a hurried journey across Europe in around 1942 finally finish up in the USA.
The house meantime lives through and survives to the modern day, and at the end of the story becomes the focus for the conclusion. The Glass Room is the main living room of the house, and encompasses the whole front expanse of the building with huge window panes of glass and an onyx wall. So much of the critical elements and events of the story take place in this room.
This is a fabulous piece of story telling, giving a slightly different take on the thousands of novels that have come out of the horror of the WWII, the Nazis, the holocaust, Communist rule, and subsequent breakdown. All that stuff happens in the background, the focus in this story is the people to whom it is happening too. There is some beautiful writing, without being overly sentimental, just a little mind you! I did find some of the characters a bit flat though, not enough depth or roundness to them. With the exception perhaps of Hana who is Liesl's best friend. Although she is not one of the main characters of the story, she certainly comes across as the most complex and interesting.
A most worthwhile book, that does take a little while to get going - till about page 75 from memory, but then the switch for me suddenly came on and I was away with it.