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The Glass Room Paperback – October 20, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The latest from novelist Mawer (The Fall) begins with great promise, as Jewish newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer meet with architect Rainier von Abt, not just an architect but "a poet...of light and space and form," who builds their dream home, a "modern house...adapted to the future rather than the past, to the openness of modern living." World events, however, are about to overtake 1930s Czechoslovakia. Viktor, like most in the community, dismisses rumors of impending pogroms-"The only people who hold the German economy together are the Jews"-but once the signs of Nazi occupation become impossible to ignore, the Landauers must abandon their beloved home. In a bizarre twist of fate, however, Liesel insists on rescuing single mother Katra, unaware that Katra is Viktor's new mistress. As the world spins into chaos, the highly symbolic Landauer house is the only constant; though it shifts identities more than once, the house remains "ageless," a place "that defines the very existence of time." Mawer's writing and characters are rich, but his twisty plot depends too often on unbelievable coincidences, especially in the conclusion.
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Named a best book of 2009 by The Economist, The Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, London Evening Standard, The Observer, and Slate.com
Named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
“A stirring new novel that almost won this year’s Booker Prize….The Glass Room works so effectively because Mawer embeds...provocative aesthetic and moral issues in a war-torn adventure story that’s eerily erotic and tremendously exciting....[a] gorgeous novel.”—The Washington Post
“[A] stirring historical novel.”—The New Yorker
“The Glass Room…is a story that will stay with me for a long, long time.”—The Huffington Post
“An old-fashioned, beautifully constructed novel of history, passion and ideas.”—The Seattle Times
“[A] saga of a family and a nation at war…Mawer moves with grace among multiple points of view and establishes sympathy for characters with competing interests.”—The Forward
"[The Glass Room is] a thing of extraordinary beauty and symmetry... a novel of ideas, yet strongly propelled by plot and characterised by an almost dreamlike simplicity of telling. Comparisons with the work of Michael Frayn would not be misplaced, and there are occasional moments of illuminating brilliance..."—The Guardian
"In Mawer's hands [The Glass Room] becomes a means for exploring the way people's hopes for the future become part of their history. This he does beautifully."—Times Literary Supplement
"...Mawer creates a passionately detailed portrait of individuals struggling to snatch order and happiness from frightening, irrational times."—Sunday Telegraph
"... engrossing... Mawer explores his themes with a subtle intelligence. A novel of ideas, but one driven by character and story."—The Literary Review
"The Jewish fates of Viktor, Kata and others are lightly handled, which seems just right in this optimistic, joyful but never facile vision of human achievement. Mawer's perfect pacing clinches a wholly enjoyable and moving read."—The Independent
"The writing, as sensual and sophisticated as its subjects, keeps us firmly within the house's elegant parameters, caught up in the touch and taste and roiling emotions of the characters living through these events. Seeing clearly, Mawer shows us, is never an option, no matter how large and expensive your windows. Every era thinks it has achieved transparency, complete with modern fixtures and sundry decorations. But we can't ever actually see out, because our damned humanity keeps misting up the glass."—Time Out London
"The Glass Room['s] poetic success is to remind us of two great gilt-edged ironies: that whatever is held to be the height of modernity is already en route to the museum, and that even 'cold' art is the embodiment of its maker's passion - one that can prove contagious."—The Financial Times
"Simon Mawer's grasp of period and place achieves what all great novels must: the creation of an utterly absorbing world the reader can scarcely bear to leave. Exciting, profoundly affecting and altogether wonderful."—Daily Mail
"A carefully constructed book, beautifully written."—The Economist
“[A] wonderful and moving story of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe.” —Christian Science Monitor
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Top Customer Reviews
"It had become a palace of light, light bouncing off the chrome pillars, light refulgent on the walls, light glistening on the dew in the garden, light reverberating from the glass. It as though they stood inside a crystal of salt."
The Glass Room becomes a place where anything and everything is possible, as previous structural and cultural restraints are lifted. The wealthy and sophisticated couple embrace their new home to the fullest, using it frequently to host friends and business colleagues. Liesel's best friend, Hana, a irreverent, beautiful and sexually hungry married woman, is a frequent visitor who provides vitality and spark to the setting.
However, changes are occurring in Europe that darken and threaten the couple's idyllic existence. Hitler's national socialism spreads through and beyond nearby Germany, and the livelihood of Jews in Czechoslovakia becomes slowly but progressively more difficult. The Landauers initially ignore the warnings, as their wealth and influence insulate them from the growing menace. The couple agrees to take in a young woman who has been forced to flee from Vienna, a woman who is well known to Viktor. Finally the couple decides to flee their beloved house and country, but by the time they decide to do so, the Germans have already occupied Czechoslovakia. Hana and her Jewish husband, however, decide to stay in M'sto.
The novel then alternates between the lives of the Landauers and the new occupants, leading up to Liesel's eventual return to the Landauer House.
This was a brilliant and near-perfect novel that covers Europe before and during World War II and the subsequent decline in European culture, and includes rich descriptions of architecture, art and music. Love, infidelity and devotion are infused throughout the book, but ultimately the main story and character is the Landauer House with its Glass Room, and the effects it has on its inhabitants and visitors.
I suppose the highest praise I could give this novel is that I would like to start reading it again from the beginning. It is easily the best of the 2009 Booker Prize longlisted books I've read so far, and would be a deserving winner of the award, in my opinion.
The Glass Room by Siman Mawer is about a glass room in a house and the people who inhabit it over the years. It is about the Landauer family and the architect they hire to build the house, Ranier von Apt, who is loosely based on Mies van der Rohe. This house is to be different from any other - one built from the inside out and with "a living space that changes functions as the inhabitants wish".
Viktor and Liesel Landauer are wealthy and privileged. He is a Jew who owns a car company and money is no object to them. When the book opens in Czechoslovakia in 1929, life is carefree and easy for them. However, Viktor shortly begins an affair with a woman named Kata and this continues for several years. The times remind me of the 1960's. Sex is loose and free and people are curious about art, their bodies, and the world at large. Hana, Liesel's best friend, is a very open and curious woman who appears to have no bounds to her sexuality and curiosity.
The main character in this exalting book is the glass room. It appears to have different meanings to those who inhabit it: " "a place that is at once of nature and quite aside from nature"; "an idea developing into a work of art"; "the house was both the work of art and the atelier in which it was being created"; "Beauty made manifest"; life lived in it be a work of art as well"; "transparent and full of light"; "a place of dreams, a cool box where you can project your fantasies and sit and watch them".
We watch as the war comes to Czechoslovakia and we see the horrors of World War II. The Landauers flee to Switzerland and the house is taken over by the Germans. Later the house is resided in by the Soviets. With each resident the house takes on different themes and meanings. The characters are richly described and the drama of their lives gives meaning to the novel.
Mawer is a fine historian and appears well versed on the invasion of Europe during the second World War. The impact on the Landauers and Kata is horrifically described and shivers ran up and down my spine as I was reading.
This is a book to savor, one that will never leave me. It is powerful, haunting, and brilliant. It grows on you slowly but once in its realm, you are powerless to leave.
I will read other books by Mawer but wonder how any book can come up to this masterpiece.