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Mendelssohn is on the Roof

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  879 ratings  ·  103 reviews
On the roof of Prague's concert hall, Julius Schlesinger, aspiring SS officer, is charged with the removal of the statue of the Jew Mendelssohn--but which one is he? Remembering his course on "racial science," Schlesinger instructs his men to pull down the statue with the biggest nose. Only as the statue topples does he recognize the face of Richard Wagner. This is just ...more
Paperback, 228 pages
Published November 25th 1998 by Northwestern University Press (first published 1960)
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Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When Reinhard Heydrich attends a concert in Prague he is incensed when he sees a statue of the Jewish composer Mendelssohn on the roof and orders it be destroyed. Thus the novel begins and will enter the minds and lives of the various people who are directly and indirectly involved in the saga of the statue. Initially no one can work out which of the many statues is Mendelssohn. Consensus is it must be the one with the biggest nose. However, this is Wagner, the Third Reich's favourite composer. ...more
One book leads to another. As here.

I last read HHhH by Laurent Binet and from page one (the pages were unnumbered, but I could count that far) I knew I had something special in my hands. Every page yielded a laugh, a horror, an enchantment. Binet, in a novel kind of history (or history novel), seemed always to find the right anecdote.

My favorite story was about Reinhard Heydrich (Acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, trustee of The Final Solution, Nazi to the core, and music lover)
Adam Rabiner
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
While Primo Levi, Ann Frank, and Eli Weizel are well known contributors to Holocaust literature, Jiri Weil is not. It is a shame that Weil is not better known because his work is just as powerful. This novel, set in German occupied Prague, "The Protectorate" as it is known, faithfully and horrifically describes life outside of the concentration camp. The closest it gets is the Terezin ghetto. Life was equally bleak outside the extermination camps. The novel views the world through the eyes of ...more
Oct 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The farce of the attempts to remove the statue of Felix Mendelssohn from the roof of Prague’s Rudolfinum during the Nazi occupation is one of the great stories of Prague’s otherwise tragic time in the euphemistically named Reichsprotektorate of Bohemia and Moravia; the orthodoxies of Nazi ‘racial science’ holds that the Jewish composer should have the biggest nose, when that was the case for the statue of Wagner – the Nazi’s favourite composer. In the end, Mendelssohn was taken down but left on ...more
Errol Orhan
Aug 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
It starts out as quite a funny and light book, as a satire of the nazi's occupying Prague. Of course, this was no picknick, and after about one hundred pages the tone changes to melancholy and misery. However, it never becomes cliched or melodramatical. On the contrary, the portraits painted by Weil are deeply moving.

Now, I didnt give it five stars, because I was really enjoying the mocking of nazis, when suddenly the stories started to become grimmer and grimmer and the dark humour that
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm tired of World War II stories, because their popularity in our culture seems saccharine, nationalistic, almost fetishistic—an excuse to pat ourselves on the back and fawn over the "glory days" of the "Greatest Generation"—while generally managing to sideline the sickeningly-relevant lessons we should be learning from it. This book was grandfathered in, having been on my list since the day I first joined Goodreads in 2010, and it more than justifies its survival of my many to-read-shelf ...more
I really didn't like the author's other book, and so I hesitated to try this one, but I figured, what the heck, the title's great, let's give it a go. I'm really glad I did! I think this book gets a great feel for the atmosphere of chaos, uncertainty and fear in the Holocaust, and you see the lives of the characters (there are a lot of them, many of them not connected to each other) spin around each other and occasionally intersect, and you hold your breath as each person's story comes to its ...more
Oct 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-tour
The story of Mendelssohn's statue is the starting point for this satirical look at Prague under Nazi occupation, told through the lives of various inhabitants of the city. It is as much a collection of related short stories as a novel, as each person's narrative could be seen a a story in itself. Some of the stories are grim, it becomes harder to make fun of the occupiers as their repression continues, but there are a few uplifting moments too. It becomes a testament of life under a brutal ...more
Feb 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Czech history buffs, WWII fiction fans, Prague lovers
The main problem with this work is the confusing nature of the storyline. Weil clearly has the grandest of ambitions, and it is obvious that he is a capable, strong writer. The ideas for a remarkable story are certainly there, as is the character development - from the Jewish families, Nazi officials, and Czech citizens. The subtle nuances of each individual struggling to survive in Nazi-occupied Prague bring striking humanity to the most inhuman times; Weil manages to portray each individual ...more
Dana Larose
Jul 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, 2008
Set in Prague during the Nazi occupation in World War 2 and follows the lives of several different, mostly Jewish, characters. It's almost more a collection of loosely connected short stories than a novel.

From the back cover: "Julius Schlesinger, aspiring SS officer, has received his new orders to remove from the roof of Prague's concert hall the statue of the Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn. But which of the figures adorning the roof is the Jew? Remember his course on 'racial science,'
Sezín Koehler
I want to give this book 500 Stars. It should be required reading for everyone above the age of 14. Marvelous and heartwrenching account of life in Prague under the Nazi occupation. Initially the novel lulls you into a false sense of comfort that it will be one of these tongue-in-cheek ironic Czech comedies of error, but it quickly turns to a painfully honest account of the things people (are forced to) do when faced with horrific non-choices and the small moments in which they find hope even if ...more
Karla Huebner
Nov 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, czech
When I first read this, about ten years ago, I thought it was quite good, a moving portrayal of Bohemia under German occupation. I still think so, but this time the experience of reading it was very different due to my having lived in Prague and read (or at least skimmed) scads of interwar Czech magazine and newspaper articles, including some by Weil. This time I knew more of the locations personally, recognized many more of the historical references and people mentioned, etc. This naturally ...more
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
What a sad story about life (and death) under the German occupation of Prague! The beginning is a bit lighter, even funny, with the story of the Mendelssohn statue that has to be torn down as he had Jewish origins. However as there are several statues nobody knows which one is Mendelssohn's! Afterwards the story (or better stories as each chapter seems to be a story of its own) gradually gets a lot more serious describing the desperate struggle of various individuals to survive.
Mar 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Very good book about people living under Nazi occupation outside Prague. Similar to Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francais, but with more irony.
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this quite a few months ago and I thought I'd written a review on it, but I see it's not here. It's too long ago for me to remember the specifics but I know I thought it was amazing.
Apr 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I picked this book up as part of my preparation to visit Prague. Mendelssohn is on the Roof opens with the story of a group of men trying to obey Heydrich's command to remove the statue of Jewish composer Mendelssohn from the roof of a building in Prague. They do not know who the composer is and decide to pull down the statue with the largest nose--who they, luckily, discover at the last moment is Wagner, a great German composer. The book is written in a series of vignettes where we follow ...more
This book was mentioned in Laurent Binet’s HHhH, which was great. I had to read this one as well, and after saving it for some time, it was finally time for a return to Prague with Mendelssohn is on the Roof.

Jiří Weil's book consists of chapters of connected stories with alternating protagonists, set in Prague and Theresienstadt during the last years of WWII. It depicts the lives of both Jews and gentile Czechs and the humiliations they had to endure working under the Germans while hoping to
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you want a book that shows humanity in all its evil and misery this pretty much fits the bill. Weil paints an array of characters in varying positions of power and domination struggling to stay on top or to stay alive. The power games and uncertainty, the ease with which people become compromised and justify to themselves their actions in the most extreme of circumstances are as relevant today as they were in the days of terror that Czechoslovakia experienced under Nazi occupation. Weil is ...more
Nov 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Descriptions of the people of Prague during the occupation by Germany, with episodes featuring the occupying forces and the oppressed Czechs. This book can probably be best described as a series of short pieces, almost like short stories, but with recurring characters taking up the plot. There is no strong central narrative thread or dominating POV, but this work is still successful as a portrayal of both the suffering of the Czechs and the monstrosities of the Nazis. The writing is strong, with ...more
Andrés Bermúdez
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Satire is a very powerful tool to take distance and think about reality from a different perspective, even with such a devastating historical period like the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation of Prague.

In the first part of the book, Weil acutely uses humor to capture and underline the absurdity of the Nazis' modus operandi and attitude, yet the second half proves that there is a limitation in humor's ability to convey such a tragic reality entirely and that ultimately horror wins. A very
Patrick Al-de Lange
I never heard of this book or this writer, which is a shame because it is every bit as powerful as an Anne Frank or the like. Set in Prague during the occupation, the story starts off satirical with scenes about silly and stupid people who help the Germans. During the course of the story, the silly business ends and tragedy takes over. The plot follows a cast of people in some way connected to the initial confusion of the Mendelssohn statue problem and leads you through haunting scenes caused by ...more
Callum Soukup-Croy
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, czech
An excellent book about the Nazi occupation of Prague during WW2 and their treatment of the local Jewish population told through the eyes of several imagined characters. True stories, historical fact and supposed lives are brought together into a dark retelling of one of the most depressing chapters in modern history. Weil writes with black humour about a subject that few would dare to broach in such a manner but still lends the respect that such history deserves.
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a translation from Czech to English and I think a little gets lost in translation. I enjoyed the story, but it is hard to keep track of the characters the way it is written. The story, however is good...sad, but good. You definitely get a feel for how the Czech people have suffered under despots in the past.
Jul 13, 2014 rated it liked it
3.5- probably would have worked better as a short story just concentrating on the black comedy of removing the stature of a composer (Mendelssohn) who might have been born a Jew but who converted and lived his life and composed his music as a christian. I loved how the Germans are shown as buffoons in their zeal to carry out ridiculous orders.
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-tranlsation, czech
Incredibly powerful. The way that Weil switches between satire, simple descriptive language and then more lyrical, poetic writing at different points in the book was highly effective in bringing home the horrors of life in Nazi occupied Prague, and also in highlighting the pettiness and ludicrousness that existed alongside the evil. I don’t know why this author isn’t more widely known.
Martha Toll
This book is incredibly powerful, by a Czech Jew, who managed to escape the Holocaust. It is a searing look at occupied Prague. Here's an article I wrote that discusses this book.
Mary Lou
Sep 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a little difficult to get into, but once I did I was hooked right up to the last page. These harrowing stories are told powerfully and simply, fear permeates throughout,and the result is a very touching and memorable book.
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A great achievement, and at times a tough read. A good rebuttal to those who believe culture makes for better leaders. That the Nazis were as human as you or I is such an obvious yet suppressed fact. (Though shame about the pro-Communist aspects of the book.)
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Starts out as almost a comic novel of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia before subtlety growing darker and bleaker. The occupying force, while often absurd, was horrific in the extreme and even black comedy is an insufficient response.
Oct 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-2
Set in Czechoslovakia during the reign of terror of Reinhard Heydrich, this book is anything but funny, yet it contains one of the most humorous scenes in all of the WWII books I've every read -- the incident on the roof of the Prague opera house noted in the goodreads description of the book.
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Jiří Weil IPA: [jɪriː vaɪl] was a Czech writer. He was Jewish. His noted works include the two novels Life with a Star, and Mendelssohn Is on the Roof, as well as many short stories, and other novels. ...more
“The minister said, "Music in stone," and truly this phrase, bandied about by authors of art books, described Prague well. The city was, indeed, steeped in music and brought into harmony by it. ” 3 likes
“[To be a master] means that he must renounce everything personal, that he must be alone, that he must have no friends, that he must be inscrutable and inaccessible even at home among his family, even at parties and dinners. All that remains for him is music; it always helps when he feels tired; it offers peace and contentment; the tensions of the day melt away in it. He remembers listening to Beethoven's Fourth after the Night of the Long Knives, remembers how it gave him strength to carry on, to continue interrogating enemies and beating confessions out of them. The music cleansed everything that time, even the blood.” 2 likes
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