Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Oh yes, we're here."

I am normally not influenced to read a book by its having been considered for or having won awards.  I am happy when a book I have already enjoyed receives an award but it doesn't usually change whether I will choose a book in the first place.  That being said, award-nominated books do tend to gain a certain visibility and clout and when I was offered Simon Mawer's Booker-nominated novel, The Glass Room, I was definitely curious.  I'm happy to have given this book a chance.

The titular Glass Room is part of the Landauer House, built in an unnamed Czechoslovakian city for Viktor and Liesel Landauer in the 1920s.  Viktor is the owner of a very successful motor car company and is also a non-practicing Jew.  Liesel is a German and a Christian who sees nothing wrong with marrying the man who she fancied as a young teen.  When they go to Venice on their honeymoon, they happen to meet Rainer von Abt, a very modern architect who offers to build them a dream house.  What he gives them is much more -- a home of transparency and light.  However, the house also masks the secrets of its owners and leaves them visible ten years later when the Nazi Germans come to Czechoslovakia.  Though the Landauers flee, the house remains and lives its own life through the times of the Nazis and the Communists.

The writing in this book is very simple and clear -- like the Landauer House and its Glass Room.  The most poignant writing of the entire book, though, is in the Afterword where Mauer explains that the German concept of "room" is not a single space with four walls and a function but is more than that.
 "It is spacious, vague, precise, conceptual, literal, all those things.  From the capacity of the coffee cup in one's hand, to the room one is sitting in to sip from it, to the district of the city in which the cafe itself stands, to the very void above our heads ..."
This description could really also apply to the novel.  Though the story seems straight-forward--the story of a marriage and a house--there are much deeper layers and more space in the story.  Some parts made me uncomfortable, some sad and others made me ill.  And yet, there was also a light that penetrated through the story -- a hope for the survival of a people, for the happiness of individuals and for the advancement of the civilized world.

The story begins with Liesel's return to the house thirty years after abandoning it so some things are already expected but the strength of the story is in seeing how the details unfold.  Based on Mawer's writing in this book, I will definitely be looking into his others.

Seeing the light past the darkness,

Support our site and buy The Glass Room on Amazon or find it at your local library.  We received our copy from the publisher.


  1. I love the cover to this one! It sounds really interesting, and I'm glad it motivated you to try his other books- that's always a positive!

  2. You've definitely made me want to read this! :)

  3. Yet another one added to my list!

  4. Jenners - It was definitely a new perspective to WWII. It had the Jewish point of view but also the Czech one.

    Aarti - The choice of cover photo is stunning, isn't it?

    Eva - I hope you do! It has some really interesting women's issues in it as well.

    Tif - I hope you get to read it!

  5. I'm reading this now--am about a third of the way in. I am enjoying it but am moving slowly through it slowly--I also like his writing style. The cover is striking, isn't it.

  6. Danielle - I can't wait to see your review of it!