Friday, July 23, 2010

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

In the late 1920's, Czech honeymooners Viktor and Liesel Landauer consider themselves part of the new, vibrant European philosophy of liberal thought focused on the arts and benignly agnostic.  They meet an architect starting his career in Vienna who exemplifies the new thought and hire him to build them a house created from the minimalist school where the heavy designs of the past are out.  Instead, they want a house with open areas, minimal furniture and clear visions both inside and out.  Spare in design, the house has living quarters upstairs and the lower floor is one vast glassed room that overlooks the city.  Young, wealthy and valued patrons of the arts, the Laundauers seem to have it all.

But gilded perfect lives rarely stay that way.  There are strains on the marriage as the years pass. Children arrive and their love moves to a settled relationship and each starts to venture outside the marriage for friendship and romance.  As the years pass and move inevitably towards the mid-1940's, all of Europe changes with the advent of the Nazi Party and Hitler's unstoppable drive to rule all that he sees.  Viktor is Jewish.  He is not observant, but that makes no difference.  Viktor clearly sees what is coming.  He manages to convince Liesel that they must leave, and with their children, nanny and her child who has been raised with their children, they move to Switzerland.  They learn what is going on from friends and family that remain behind.  All that they treasured is lost.  Many of their friends are caught up in the Nazi horrors and their glorious house built to celebrate a new age is now a "research station" where people are measured in an attempt to find the markers that separate Jew from non-Jew.

The Glass Room has a 2009 finalist for the Man Booker Prize.  In it, Mawer leads the reader through the horror of what man can do to man without clubbing them over the head with unceasing details.  He also shows how men and women hurt each other while trying to carve out a place of safety and love for themselves.  The book not only covers the years of World War II, but the Communist era that followed in this area.  It is highly recommended for all readers and is a book I'll remember for a long time. 

1 comment:

Patti's Pages said...

I agree that it's memorable, but I have to say that I'll remember the house more than the human characters.