Wednesday, September 8, 2010

THE GLASS ROOM by Simon Mawer


This was my first ebook, and how appropriate that it's about an ultra-modern house. Viktor Landauer is a wealthy Czechoslovakian car manufacturer, about to start a family with his wife Liesel, just before WWII. They contract with an unconventional architect to build a house whose main living space is walled by glass. Viktor is a Jew and leads his family on a journey that culminates in the U.S. What's unusual about this story is that Viktor's mistress, Kata, herself a Jewish refugee, comes to live with the family as their nanny. Thus we have an awkward threesome, but this does not make for a tawdry core to the novel. In fact, the house is really the main character, as we follow its various purposes—a laboratory, a dance studio, a museum. Liesel's close friend Hana, whose husband Oskar is also a Jew, is witness to these transformations of the house, and, in my mind, is the most interesting person in the book. She has two great loves, Liesel and Oskar, and sells herself to a Nazi scientist in an effort to save her husband. Despite the turmoil and tragedy of the times, this book never really grabbed me emotionally. And certainly the house doesn't give off any warm and fuzzy vibes. The most fascinating subplot was that of the interim in which the house serves as a research facility, whose purpose is to isolate some distinguishing physical characteristic that would identify Jews unequivocally. Needless to say, no amount of measuring body parts or blood work provides the telltale sign. What is odd about this endeavor is that there's intermarriage, even among the main characters, so that someone who is of purely Jewish descent is somewhat rare, especially since those with the means to do so have fled the country. Even the head scientist himself has a recessive trait that implies that he may have had a Jewish ancestor. Ironically, due to this gene's tragic impact on his family, he is especially motivated to eradicate the Jews.

4 comments:

Jessica said...

I have this book and its been on my shelf for a while now so I really must read it sometime. Thanks for the review.

Patti's Pages said...

Thanks for commenting, Jessica!

Herschelian said...

I expect you already know that Simon Mawer based the Glass Room on the real, still existing, Villa Tugendhat which is situated in the outskirts of the city of Brno in the Czech Republic. It was designed by the architect Mies Van Der Rohe and built in the late 1920s and you can go and visit it. Google it and you'll find pictures.

Patti's Pages said...

Oops. Sorry, Herschelian, but I think I deleted the wrong version of your comment. Anyway, I became aware of the existence of the real house after I read the book. Thanks for reading and commenting!