Cool. Balanced. Modern. The precisions of science, the wild variance of lust, the catharsis of confession and the fear of failure - these are things that happen in the Glass Room. High on a Czechoslovak hill, the Landauer House shines as a wonder of steel and glass and onyx built specially for newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer, a Jew married to a gentile.
But the radiant honesty of 1930 that the house, with its unique Glass Room, seems to engender quickly tarnishes as the storm clouds of WW2 gather, and eventually the family must flee, accompanied by Viktor's lover and her child.
But the house's story is far from over, and as it passes from hand to hand, from Czech to Russian, both the best and the worst of the history of Eastern Europe becomes somehow embodied and perhaps emboldened within the beautiful and austere surfaces and planes so carefully designed, until events become full-circle.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 416 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
- Publication Date: 22/04/2010
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780349121321
Showing 1 - 5 of 6 reviews.
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Review by DubaiReader
An excellent read.An excellent book based on the events of WWII but from the point of view of characters in Czechoslovakia.Using the house as the central character, Mawer brilliantly interweaves the support characters of Liesel and her husband Viktor, owner of Landauer cars in Czechoslovakia. Vicktor is Jewish and as WWII looms and the Nazis gain in strength, he and Lisel are forced to leave with their two children and flee west. Liesel's vivacious friend Hana remains in Czechoslovakia, also with a Jewish husband, Vicktor's accountant. This inevitably makes for interesting comparisons on their fates.There are several other characters who come and go, not least Vicktor's mistress, Kata, but I think my favourite has to be von Abt, the architect. With his clear vision of how the house is to look when finished, he effectively steam-rollers any diversions proposed by the family who will eventually be living in it.The majority of the book concerns the Landauer family, but the last third wraps up the story by following the fate of the house during Nazi occupation and beyond. Several additional characters appear briefly and neatly tie up all the loose ends.I was so sad that Liesel, when she finally returns to see the house of her dreams, is blind and has to imagine it.The book is based around a real house and pictures are available on the internet - search Tugendhat House or Glass Raum. I was particularly interested to see the onyx wall.I really enjoyed this book and wondered how come I'd never read any of the author's previous 7 books? If they are as good as this then I shall be busy for a while!
Review by debutnovelist
A fascinating novel that centres on a house which was at the forefornt of modern architecture in pre-war Czechoslovakia, exploring the emotions and liaisons which tool place in its famous 'Glassraum' from the rise of the Nazis (trhe owner of the house was a Jew) to the Communist era and beyond. This is a fascinating study of time and place with an epic quality. The house is the true star of the show, but that doesn't detract from the power of the human dramas that unfold in and around it.
Review by dmsteyn
The only book shortlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize which I haven't read previously, this book surprised me with its fairly original take on the European experience of the 20th century. Originally, I didn't read the book because I thought it was going to be a turgid WW2 novel - not that a WW2 setting is necessarily a bad thing - but this book, although the war plays a large part, is more about the tangential effects of history on human relationships.I enjoyed Mawer's acuity of perception when it came to character portrayal, and I found his descriptions of the house around which the story revolves (The Glass Room of the title is a room/space in the house) very interesting. The decision to focus the story on the house is a real coup on Mawer's part, with it a forming a constant basis for perspicuous metaphor and a setting for the action. I did find the constant roll-call of new characters a bit distracting - one couldn't really form a strong attachment (or dislike) towards some of the later, less individualised characters - but the main family of the story is beautifully drawn.A small irritation was Mawer's use of the word 'humped' in the book. Every time someone lugs/carries/hauls something, Mawer writes that they 'humped' it upstairs, for instance. A peccadillo, I know, but it distracted me from the otherwise lucid and vivid language.On the whole, an excellent book. Of the 2009 Booker nominees, I still prefer the winner, Wolf Hall, maybe even The Quickening Maze, but I am glad that I eventually got round to this book.
Review by Smiler69
A gorgeous and elegantly told story about a Czech couple, Viktor and Liesl Landauer who meet an architect while they are honeymooning in Venice and ask him to design a house for them. Viktor, a Jewish man, is the head of Landauer motors, and as such very wealthy, and at the end of the 1920s, he has distinct ideas about what his house should be like: the opposite of the decorative classical style of previous generations; Czechoslovakia is a new country with what is believed to be a bright future, and he wants a house which exemplifies a new way of living. The architect is more interested in creating a space, or a work of art for people to live in than anything resembling a traditional home, and so the Landauer house is built, and as it's pièce de résistance is a living room contained within walls of glass with a huge slab of onyx used to separate the space; a tremendously costly and self-indulgent design element which they nonetheless can afford. The house causes much debate among those who believe it to be a triumph of minimalist design and those who claim it to be more suited to industry than to family living. The Landauer mansion is based on a real house: the Villa Tugendhat, designed in the late 1920s by Mies van der Rohe and it is immediately clear that it is the main character of the novel, through which we get an intimate glimpse into the Landauer marriage, with both Viktor and Liesl claiming to be absolutely transparent and true to one another, much like the Glass Room itself, though of course both have their secret loves and betrayals. They enjoy ten years in their unique home which is the centre of much attention, with frequent elegant parties to which celebrated musicians are invited to perform on the grand piano. As Hitler's Germany comes to power, Viktor is at first unwilling to accept that things are as bad as they seem for the Jews, but the family nonetheless escapes just in time to avoid deportation to the camps, leaving their beloved Landauer House behind as well as a big piece of Viktor's life and heart. But through the war, then the Russian occupation, then the creation of a communist state, the house is occupied by various tenants. They are in turn visited by Liesl's best friend, Hana Hanakova, who has remained behind and kept an attachment to the home of the woman she once declared her love to. This is a beautiful novel, filled with a deep sense of melancholy, and unfulfilled dreams. The house as a central character, occupied during WWII and communism, was very reminiscent of Jenny Erpenbeck's <i>Visitation</i>, though the novels are very different in the stories they tell and the fates of the buildings themselves. While Erpenbeck's house slowly falls to ruins, the Landauer mansion eventually becomes a museum, preserved for all time. I loved this novel and was particularly taken with the story of the house itself, the Landauer family and Hana, and the complex relationships they form. I felt however that I was reading quite a different novel when the house becomes used as a gymnasium in communist times and was sorry to be taken away from the Landauers, though this is very much a personal preference, and takes nothing away from what I consider to be a fantastic piece of literature which is well worth taking the time to savour. 2009 was a strong year for the Booker Prize, and this novel definitely deserved it's place among the other selections on the shortlist.
Review by Eyejaybee
A lovely book based around the experiences of the Landauer family as first the Nazis and then the Communists overrun Czechoslovakia. While on honeymoon in Venice in 1928, Viktor and Liesel Landauer met Rainer von Abt, an aspiring architect who is obsessed by the burgeoning modernist movement. The Landauers are very wealyth (Viktor owns the prestigious Czech-based Landauer Motor Company), and they decide to commission their marital home from von Abt. He proceeds to design and then build a marvellous, unique house, set into the side of a hill in which the walls of the lower storey are made of glass. The description of the building is precise but never laboured, and the reader is wholly convinced of the startling and enticing house that von Abt has created.For the next ten years the Landauers live there, seeming ly content, though the transparency of their living arrangements is not sufficient to prevent them from keeping their dark secrets. Meanwhile events in Europe gradually conspire to render their own menace, especially as Viktor Landauer is Jewish, and the menace of the Nazis moves ever closer. there is a marvellous scene in which Viktor, Liesel and their friend Hana listen to a radio broadcast of Neville Chamberlain speaking after his now infamous meeting with Hitler in Munich in 1938. Appeasing Britons may have allowed themselves to be swayed by Chamberlain's platitudinous rambling but the three Czechs immediately recognise the truth of their situation.The Germans duly annex the Sudetenland and beyond, and the Landauers decide that their best policy might be flight, though their circumstances have already become additionally complicated by the presence in their lives of Katalin, with whom Viktor has had a few adulterous encounters, and her daughter Marika.Beautifully written and meticulously plotted, this novel is one of the most enjoyable, but also moving, books I have read all year.
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