Tag Archives: Vienna

Exile Music: A Novel Book Review

Childhood should be a time of love, laughter, friendship, and innocence. But for some children, their early years are far from ideal.

Exile Music: A Novel, by Jennifer Steil, was published this month. Growing up in Vienna in the 1930’s, Orly lives a comfortable life. Her parents are professional musicians and her older brother is well regarded by the neighborhood. When she is not with her family, Orly spends her free time with her best friend, Anneliese. In 1938, her world is shattered by the Nazi invasion and the racial laws that quickly begin to restrict Jewish life.

After her brother flees to Switzerland, Orly and her parents are among the lucky few who find refuge in Bolivia. Settling in La Paz, they are strangers in a strange land. While Orly and her father make due, her mother is not quite ready to give up what they lost. She is also keeping a secret that if got out, could cause trouble. Decades later, when Anneliese comes back into her life, Orly has to make a choice. Does she stay in Bolivia with her family or return to Europe and pick up where she and Anneliese left off?

I really enjoyed reading this book. Orly is relatable character. Her voice and growth throughout the novel felt organic and true to the various stages of life that we go through as we grow up. I also appreciated the undercurrent of the LGBTQ storyline. Instead of feeling forced to make the book stand out, Steil includes in a way that gives her main character a layer and an extra oomph that is not often seen in this genre and this period in history.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Unanswered Letter: One Holocaust Family’s Desperate Plea for Help Book Review

Sometimes, when it seems that all is lost, fate has a way of guiding us to the right path.

In the early 2000’s, writer Faris Cassell received a letter that would change her life and answer decades long questions of a family she had never met. The story of that letter is told in her 2020 book, The Unanswered Letter: One Holocaust Family’s Desperate Plea for Help. In 1939, Alfred Berger was a Jewish man living in Vienna. His once tight knit and happy family has been forced apart due to the Nazi invasion and the threat to lives of the Jews of Europe. With his daughters safely out of the country, Alfred is desperate to find a way out for himself and his wife. Taking a chance, he writes to strangers with the same last name living in California, hoping that they will provide the help that is desperately needed.

Sixty plus years later, this letter is given to Cassell’s husband. It’s contents starts on her on a journey to find Berger’s living descendants. With a dogged persistence and a journalist’s skill, she is finally able to fill in the blanks of what happened to Alfred, his wife, and the rest of the family who were caught in the German crossfire.

The book is fantastic. It was a heart pounding voyage that immediately hooked me and kept me in rapt attention until the final page. It was a powerful story of love, hope, and ultimately survival.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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80 Years After the Holocaust, European Jews Still Have a Target on Their Backs

Among the major cities in the world, Vienna ranks among the most beautiful. The city is elegant and timeless, attracting visitors from around the world.

But there is another side to this city that came to the forefront during World War II. Only 130,000 Jewish residents were able to leave Europe before the borders closed. Of the 650,000 people that remained, approximately 2,000 were alive at the end of the war.

80 years later, European Jews (and Viennese Jews to be more specific) still have a target on their backs. At 8PM local time, six gunmen spread across the city. Their first target was the Seitenstettengasse synagogue. As of the most recent news reports, fifteen people were injured and one person is deceased.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am getting tired of seeing headlines like these. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. We all deserve the same respect, opportunities, and rights, regardless of who we are as individuals.

Humanity is better than this. We know that. We have seen what happens when we start to love one another. Unfortunately, there are still far too many who believe that their faith/culture is better than all others. I don’t know what it will take, but its time to stop this foolishness.

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Caging Skies Book Review

Growing up happens in different ways. However, during war time, growing up often happens quicker than during peace time.

Christine Leunens’s new novel, Caging Skies, is set during World War II. Johannes Betzler is a young man living in Nazi occupied Vienna. Like many young men of his time, he becomes an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth.

Then he discovers that his parents are hiding Elsa, a Jewish girl behind a wall in their home. His initial disgust turns into infatuation and then obsession. After his parents disappear, Johannes is the only person who knows about Elsa. Her fate is in his hands.

I hate to use the “p” word (potential) when writing a review, but that is the only word I can use to describe this book. When I started reading this book, I was engrossed in this story of a boy who goes through quite a transformation. The book is described as a sort of dark comedy. Frankly, I did not get the comedy and I was disappointed by the time I reached the end of the story.

Do I recommend it Not really.

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The Only Woman in the Room Book Review

There is a stereotype about women: their looks dictate their intellect. A pretty woman lacks in the intelligence department while an unattractive woman soars in the intelligence department.

Back in the day, Hedy Lamarr (b0rn as Hedwig Eva Maria Kieslerwas considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. She was also incredibly smart, but given the era, her intellectual abilities were not exactly respected or appreciated.

The new book, The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict is Ms. Lamarr’s story from her perspective. The book starts when she is 19. It’s the early 1930’s in Vienna. She is a budding actress who catches the eye of a wealthy and powerful arms dealer. To protect herself and her family, she marries this man. While she plays the role of dutiful wife, she absorbs everything that she hears and sees.

When the marriage turns abusive and it becomes clear that her Jewish ancestry will put her in harm’s way, she escapes to Hollywood. In her new life and career, she is Hedy Lamarr, silver screen goddess. But she has a secret that only a few select people are privy to: she is a scientist. Her invention could possibly end the war and save lives, if those in power would give her work a chance.

I was shocked how much I loved this book. Before reading it, I was aware of Hedy Lamarr as a movie star and had heard that she was an inventor. But other than the basic facts, I was unaware of her complete story. I loved this book because it is the story of a woman who is clearly intelligent and capable, but is underappreciated for those qualities due to the era she lived in.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The House at Tyneford Book Review

War has a way of forever changing the world as we know it to be.

Natasha Solomons 2011 book, The House at Tyneford starts just as World War II is engulfing Europe. in 1938, Elise Landau is 19 and up to this point has known a comfortable life. But life for Jews in Vienna, as it is in all parts of Europe, is becoming  uncomfortable and unsafe very quickly. For her safety, she is sent to a rural English estate entitled Tyneford, where she has to work for her living as a member of the household staff. Then she meets Kit, the son and only heir to the estate. Their relationship is not only unorthodox and looked down upon, but it will change the fates of both the estate and Elise forever.

I loved this book. I loved it not because of my knowledge of that world and the period, but because I understood Elise and her journey. When one is thrown from the lap of luxury and have to earn their daily bread, they have two options. They can either shrink, complain and become a burden on others. Or, they can rise to the occasion, grow and learn something about themselves in the process.

I absolutely recommend it.

 

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