May 30, 2013

Book: The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:39 am


A Booker Prize winning novel, it richly deserves the prize it got.

This is a great book to read. It follows the story of Victor Landauer and his wife Liesel Landauer. They are the industrialists with Viktor producing the famed motorcars. He happens to be a Jew and Liesel is a Catholic. The couple go to Paris for their honeymoon and while there, meet Rainier von Abt, a German (or Dutch?) who is a genius. On a whim, Viktor hires him to build him a Glass House in Prague and when this was completed, it was an amazing place, though many people and even Viktor himself has doubts on how good it will look.

In the meanwhile, Viktor meets a girl in Vienna, one Kara Kalman, who captures his mind so fully that he has to go and meet her every time. Kara also has feelings for him and takes him home to show off her daughter Marika. He realizes that she is a Jew.

The story is told in the backdrop of the gathering war clouds just before World War II. Victor loses Kara, and cannot locate her, as she left amid difficulties for Jews in Vienna. In the meanwhile, Hana Hanikova, another Christian wife of another jew Oskar Hanik, shows her fiery wild style and declares her love for Liesel.

When Kara turns up as a refugee in Prague itself, it is Liesel who suggests that they be housed in an outhouse, and later, hired as a tutor to Ottile, her daughter, and Martin, her son. Marika was to be a playmate to them. Viktor and Kara resume their relationship and is spied on by Lanik, the caretaker. Liesel discovers Viktor’s infidelity, is furious, but stays with him.

When Vienna is annexed by Hitler (Anschlus) and Poland falls next, Viktor sees the writing on the wall and moves to Switzerland with family (including Kara) in tow. On a French border, the Nazis inspect the train and take Kara and Marika away. Victor shouts at the officials and gets his nose broken and sent back. He crumples completely and Liesel realizes that he places Kara above his own wife and children.

They then move to America.

In the meanwhile, Czech nation is occupied by Germans. Hana’s husband loses all the money and has to wear a gold star. Hana strikes up a relationship with Stahl, an official who thinks that measurements of man can separate them into classes and even identify a Jew and gets pregnant in the bargain. When he finds out, he sends her off to a concentration camp. Oskar is taken to another camp and she never sees him again.

Fast forward to Soviet “liberation” of Chechoslovakia and Lanik has made a pile in the crisis by hoarding and smuggling. The Russian army commandant, a woman, has taken a shine to him.

Later, Tomas has the same situation as Viktor, where he has a relationship with two women at the same time; beautiful Zbenka and also Eve (Iva) who is a reporter. He tries to string Zbenka on, but is exposed and she leaves him. Hana meets her and finds love again.

Many years later, a blind Liesel, renamed Elizabeth Landor for Americans returns to Chech to see her Glass Room being converted to a museum. The story ends with Marika returning to see the house and meeting Ottilie in the bargain.

The story is brilliantly told. The story starts slowly and goes slow initially but gathers speed and kind of captures your attention somewhere in the middle and before you know it, you are hooked. The latter part of the book is brilliant, and well written. You see the betrayal of women by several men casually, and you get to hate some of them, but the characters are well done and credible.

Definitely worth a read, and makes you think  a lot after you are done. It reminded me of the Blind Assassin for some reason.

I would give it a 8/10


— Krishna



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