Unread, now read book 12 – The Glass Room, Simon Mawer

The Glass Room

This is a domestic novel, concentrating on one family, the Landauers, and their close friends and what happens to them all throughout the 1930s and 40s (and up to present day) in the First Republic of Czechoslovakia (as it is called at the time). Liesl and Victor Landauer are newly married, happy and looking forward to their future together, starting with an ambitious new house build in ‘Mesto’ (fictional Brno) in the First Republic of Czechoslovakia. A modern house, a glass house, it reflects and reinforces all of their modernistic dreams and is a meeting place for the cultural figures of their acquaintaince, including pianists and poets. But Victor is a Jew. And war is coming. Soon they have to flee their home, first to Switzerland, then Cuba, then eventually the US. Their beautiful glass house is abandoned,  is requisitioned first by one occupying force, then another, before finally being claimed by the Communists and turned into a museum.

From an historical point of view I found this novel interesting as I didn’t know much about the Czechs’ experience during the war; obviously I have read a lot of novels set in WWII France, Britain, Germany, etc. and learnt a lot of WWII history at school but I have never really read much about the political and cultural situation in Eastern Europe at this time. The tension between Germans and Czechs (then the Russians and Czechs) is well drawn and the architectural, lyrical descriptions of the house (which is a real house the the author once visited, the Villa Tugendhat in Cerna Pole in Brno) are excellent. In fact, quite honestly the house displays more personality than the characters who are quite one-dimensional (except Hana Hanakova, Liesl’s best friend, who is fabulous!).

However, the heavy-handed symbolism and the reliance on coincidences to drive the plot annoyed me. That the plot relies on five or six outrageous coincidences experienced by Victor and/or Liesl beggers belief. I refuse to list them here, they are just silly. So not sure I would recommend this novel.

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