Beatrice Palmer, a young woman in the west of Ireland, is bored with her constricting life as a shop girl in her family's haberdashery. Her life offers no possibilities until a glamorous countess comes along and whisks her away to a life of privilege in the wealthy household of the Metzenburg family in Germany. She imagines herself the lucky girl living a fairy tale life: "I, who'd been properly bewitched, was accompanying her to a distant kingdom where I would live in an enchanted forest and spin flax into gold."
Unfortunately, the year is 1938, Hitler is on the rise and World War II looms on the near horizon. When it becomes clear that war is inevitable, Beatrice has the option to return home, but her desire to live a larger life keeps her loyal to Felix and Dorothea Metzenburg.
Many stories of impending war center on people who either don't know or can't let themselves believe the consequences of staying. Ms. Moore's story is unusual in that the Metzenburgs (in particular, Felix) understand the consequences and yet decide to remain and face what is to come. For Felix, it isn't a loyalty to his country or a particular attraction to his estate (it's his wife's ancestral home). Instead, it's a soul-deep connection to his objects, his "treasure" as the family calls it. He stays to protect his priceless collection of art, antiques, jewelry and porcelain. These objects are in essence his identity; he has no desire to live in a world without their beauty.
For varying reasons, everyone decides to stay, even those who have the means of escape: Beatrice, because she wants no other life; household servants, out of loyalty to their employers; Dorothea, out of love for her husband. As the book unfolds, the tragedy of war and eventually the horrors of living under the oppression of Soviet rule engulf the protagonists. The Metzenburgs' priceless objects ultimately become a means of survival for themselves as well as others.
This is a riveting book, and one that I appreciated, surprisingly, for its restraint. Beatrice doesn't cut the apron strings only to become entangled in scandalous behavior. Her desires are modest, her pleasures simple. She is a good and conscientious girl, naive in many ways, but also loyal, brave and even, in the end, heroic. The war, she realizes, made her who she is and she knows she is the better for it.
This is a story that will linger long after you've reached the last page. What a delight to spend a few hours with such an accomplished storyteller as Susanna Moore. After reading this book, I picked up and enjoyed The Typist, by Michael Knight, a story set in occupied Japan after World War II whose protagonist seems similarly willing to let events carry him along.
In 1938, Beatrice Palmer is willingly seduced away from her home in Ireland by self-styled Countess Hartenfels' promise to introduce her to a German woman who would be enchanted by Beatrice's skill in sewing lace. Using the name Maeve, Beatrice joins Herr Felix Metzenburg and his wife Dorothea at their home thinking to work as a seamstress creating lace enhancements for Dorothea. She soon finds that her role is more that of a poor relation working as a servant in their odd household.
The Life of Objects follows Beatrice (Maeve) and the Metzenburgs as they struggle to survive through World War II, first in Berlin, the later at the Metzenburgs country estate. It soon becomes apparent that Herr Felix is suspicious of the new Nazi government. As the war begins, he slowly moves his treasured paintings, Dorothea's jewelry, and much of their silver into hiding places around the estate. He simultaneously tries to help the local villagers, refugees from Poland and Eastern Europe, and wounded or deserting German soldiers while maintaining some semblance of family.
The story offers up many of the well-known atrocities against Jews, homosexuals, and opponents of Hitler's regime through the eyes of the Metzenburg's extended family. They live under the threat of death by their fellow Germans - Gestapo and SS - as well as from the nightly bombing raids across the countryside. Murder, rape, suicide, and destruction are described in some detail.
But I could never connect with either Beatrice or the events described. Somehow, I felt no involvement with the story. I am accustomed to my slowly (or, occasionally, quickly) rising adrenaline levels as I read a good mystery or suspense story - but nothing happened as I read The Life of Objects. While the book seems well-written and reads easily, something is missing.
An astonishing literary work of emotion & character. There is a desperate sadness associated with war and it seeps from these pages into its readers. VORZUGLICH (exquisite). Captivating intrigue.
What would it have been like to survive WWII on the home front of Berlin? How does a survivor of `ground zero' for a losing country change over wartime? Everyday life's struggles/joys; tragedy; atrocity; fear; all mixed with the common denominator of a humanness desire to survive (at least for some.)
"The Life of Objects", a seven-year, dark, gritty saga of Germany home front wartime survival, is a riches-to-rags epic. Post-war society fell into class levels associated with the extent of a family`s suffering. Then the Russian Berlin Sector became a socialist colony. This relatively short book packs all that into the pages. Characters of mixed religion and nationality unite to survive the hellish days of WWII.
Upon concluding the final page I felt strangely rewarded for having read; heart-sick for the survivors (even knowing them fictional), and again personally changed by WW2. A good book for war readers and history lovers. Certainly a look from a new perspective.
on September 18, 2012
I do not recall reading anything before where the ironic outcomes of war are so beautifully drawn: the liberators (the Russians) are worse than the enemy, survivors of the war are as good as dead, and valuable possessions (The Life of Objects?) have uncertain value and maybe no value at all. This is a beautiful rendering of how fragile our lives are, especially when war is the backdrop. Yet (ironically, again) the aftermath of war is somehow worse, and even more fragile. Everything has changed. What to do now? Where to go?
Beautiful writing, beautiful metaphor, beautiful characters.
on August 26, 2012
I believe readers should have a particular interest in WWII based novels in order to fully appreciate this well-written story.
The Life of Objects is about Beatrice, a young, naive, and frustrated lace maker from Ireland, and a couple (from old family money) in Germany that decides to wait out the war, though they have been warned that friends and colleagues have been losing their property, freedom, and lives. When Beatrice joins the household as the wife's personal lacemaker, they are in the process of hiding their "objects", which consist of pieces of art and jewelry. The title of this book has significant meaning.
I never felt I understood the nature and complexities of the relationships in the household, but I very soon realized the real story was going on outside of that house. The war itself is the main character of this book. Once I accepted that, it made the story much easier to appreciate. And though I wanted to learn more about one of the more interesting characters, and didn't, until the end that is, the other characaters, for the most part, were well developed. The conclusion of the book is quite good, though sad of course.
I had never read a novel that presents the viewpoint of non-jews that were persecuted during the war until this book. It's hard to believe that the Nazi movement ever took hold once they started devouring the fortunes of so many once influential families. Because money has always meant power, you would think the wealthy would have pooled their resources to buy Hitler's demise.
on September 2, 2012
From a literary standpoint this is a decently written book but it did not translate into an enjoyable reading experience. The backdrop of the novel is the rise and fall of Nazism in WWII era Berlin and the efforts of a broad range of people to maintain hope, sustenance and order in the midst of uncertainty and death. It is not primarily a book about the war however. Rather it is a commentary about our relationship with things and how we imbue them with the power to define, enchant, complete or in some way save us from whatever darkness we fear. Moore also shows how easy it is to objectify not only other people, but ourselves as well. The characters were all somewhat detached from themselves and each other and I never was able to engage with them or enter into the story in a satisfying way. The context was interesting but not essential to the story which could have been set in any number of historical settings. This is not a book that I would ever re-read or recommend.
on September 5, 2012
I liked this book for the in-depth look at the life of a family in Germany before and during WWII. The Metzenbergs were wealthy, educated, cultured, and quietly opposed to the Nazi regime. Even though Dorothea Metzenberg may have had a Jewish grandmother and is at risk for deportation, the family remains in Germany, but leaves Berlin for their estate in the country.
The main character, the young Irish girl Beatrice who comes to live with them, is observant but innocent and naive. I liked this about her, since her naivete allows us to draw our own conclusions about the behavior and motivations of the other characters.
It's easy to question the Metzenberg's decision to stay in Germany when they could have emigrated. At first, you think that they either don't understand the gravity of the situation or that they're more concerned about protecting their possessions. As the story unfolds, you realize that they're staying not to protect their property, their marvelous "objects", but to use those objects to help save others.
The best part of the book for me was the detailed look at their everyday lives. It was almost idyllic, even in the early years of the war. They worked in the gardens, walked in the woods, read to each other in the library, entertained guests. When the war finally touched them directly, Moore presents the horrors of the Russian advance almost clinically. This was a less satisfying part of the book for me, not just the descriptions of the atrocities, but that I felt detached. Like other reviewers, I was ultimately unable to connect emotionally with any of the characters. I cared what happened to them, but at a remove. I should have been in tears and I wasn't.
One of the reviewers here stated it correctly ... it is a bleak book. I picked it since I was interested in WWII and thought this one had promise in showing me a different side of the story that happened all across Europe in those years during Hitler's regime.
This one is definitely not one of my favorite books. This is well-written but the story line is depressing and really stark. I read to feel connected with the author and his/her story that he/she is sharing but this one left me cold. I don't feel anything about the characters even though I just finished reading this book. If it is a novel about naivety, well, it is that but Beatrice is a character that is not formed completely and her story is more of a passive bystander while in the midst of the carnage that war brings.
Beatrice is a young Irish girl, seduced by a traveling German countess to leave the safety of her home to move to Germany as a lace-maker for a couple who lived in a prosperous part of town. They moved to the Yellow Palace, an old family home, where they can bury their treasure and everyone else's treasures as well. The war came upon them and after it ended, they were overtaken by the Russians. The rest of the novel is about their attempts to survive the end of the war, which ended up being more brutal than they imagined.
Fortunately for me, this was a slim book otherwise I would not have finished it. I kept reading it in hopes that the story would improve and while it did, it wasn't enough for me to rate this more than 3 stars. The writing is very good and for that, I can recommend this to others. It just didn't appeal to me.
An intriguing novel with a new take on life in Germany around the start of World War II, The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore is both captivating and heartbreaking. Moore tells the story of young Beatrice, a 17-year-old who leaves her lace making work to be taken in by the well-to-do and well-connected Metzenburg family of Berlin in 1938. As the German Nazi atrocities become an ever-expanding reality for Europe, the Metzenburgs, their staff, and Beatrice move to the family's country estate. Faced with the choice of fleeing or staying with her new "family", Beatrice decides her attachment to the Metzenburgs and their way of life outweighed the impending terror from the Nazis. Written with a deliberate tone, Moore transports readers to the time and develops her characters in a very natural way throughout the story. Put to life's most difficult tests through her witness, Beatrice exemplifies the power of perseverance and resolve in this most telling tale of one of the darkest periods in modern human history. The Life of Objects is a must read for fans of historical fiction.
I read one of this author's earlier novels, about British characters in 19th century India. She certainly does her research and this book is no exception. An Irish girl, Beatrice (who is called Maeve as a nickname) feels trapped in her village in County Sligo in the late 1930s. As a Protestant, she is not allowed to socialize with the Catholics, who make up most of the town. She works in her father's haberdashery shop, and feels there is nothing to look forward to. She starts teaching herself to make lace (which I found interesting) and the local lady of the manor starts giving her orders to make for her. One day Beatrice is invited to the great house and meets a countess, Inez, who is on her way back to Germany where she is about to get a divorce, pick up her children, and leave for Egypt.
Beatrice goes with Inez, who introduces her to Felix and Dorothea von Metzenburg. They have an estate south of Berlin and all sorts of fabulous things. At this time, of course, the Nazis are in power and shortly the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night, the violent nationwide progrom against the Jews) takes place. Felix and Dorothea are Protestant Germans who are trying to do the right thing while living in a terrorist state. Throughout the book, during and after the war, they hide everyone who comes to them for help. They also bury in their garden valuables (gold, jewelry, paintings, etc.) that belong to Felix's friends. These objects are of great importance. As an aside, the Nazis stole a lot of property, including art work, from wealthy Jews. In the jargon of the day, these items were called Objekte (see, e.g. Wouk, Herman, The Winds of War). At the end of the war, the house is destroyed by bombs, and the Russians come in, looting, pillaging, raping and killing. Most of the objects are stolen or traded for food.
The author writes so realistically, you feel you are at the scene. Several air raids on Berlin are terrifying. The invasion of the barbaric Russian troops was another scene I though was very effective. Contrast this with the elegant dinner parties at the beginning of the book. The author has a magnificent eye for detail. One point the book makes is Hitler inflicted as much suffering on his own people as on people of other countries. Stalin was just as bad if not worse. The destruction of both objects and lives was sick and senseless. Highly recommended.