"I cannot continue live as if these things were complete fiction."
It's been a long time since I've found a book series that I could really be emotionally invested in - you know, the kind that you have a hard time putting down, and must finish even though you have other things you should be doing? I think the last time that happened might have been when I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy over 15 years ago. I think I read The Two Towers in a day.
I say so not to boast but to make a point: at long last I have discovered a series that is thrilling again! I actually read over 100 pages in one sitting, and I haven't done that since... I can't even remember when!
Not only that, but the characters and what happens to them now means so much to me. (Even more than what happens to my favorite Downton Abbey characters, which is saying something.) Everything and everyone in this book became so real that I could hardly wait to read another page before knowing what would become of them. The fact that it happened in a real time and place made them almost too real. I don't know how many times I cried.
Now shall I tell you what book it is? I suppose I've kept you in suspense for long enough...
This book – so poignant, so thrilling, so though-provoking – drum roll, please – is Vienna Prelude.
And the title just captures the story perfectly.
The author is Bodie Thoene, and this book is the first of her series that covers events in Europe during World War II. It begins in Berlin, right at the heart of Germany, then moves to Vienna, Austria in 1936. The story follows the young violinist Elisa Lindheim, whose mother is German and father is Jewish. With that information alone you can tell that the author is setting you up for a doozy of a story!
I had no idea what went on in Austria in 1936-38, but, boy, I do now.
Of course one aspect that I love is traveling to Europe as I made my way through the pages. Vienna sounds like a particularly magical place, especially at Christmas, and I began to understand Elisa's love for this historic city, with music and coffee houses around every corner.
"...through Elisa's eyes we see it all as someone whose world seems to be falling apart around her..."
The scenes are not often described, but when they are it is through the eyes of characters, which brings an immediacy to the action and keeps the story moving. There is a lot of switching between the points-of-view of several characters – sometimes even minor characters – but it's easy to follow and it also adds to the urgent pace of the story.
Besides Elisa, we see a lot through the eyes of John Murphy, usually known as just Murphy – a young but jaded, tired, truth-seeking American journalist on assignment in Berlin who gets tangled up in Elisa's story. From his point of view we see things as strangers learning to understand the people and events in Europe. By contrast, through Elisa's eyes we see it all as someone whose world seems to be falling apart around her – even her new romance that had begun so hopefully.
Because even in the midst of the elegant, historic Vienna, filled with luxurious coffee houses, decadent pastries, ancient cathedrals, and the magnificent music of Mozart and Strauss, the darkness and hatred of the Nazis can find its way to the lives of anyone. There is a lurking sense throughout the story that this city of light and music is about to be engulfed in the shadow, that Austria will be swallowed up in Hitler's Reich if no one will stand for its freedom.
Of course the shadow falls first on the Jews, in Germany and then in Austria, and what results from that in Elisa's life and the lives of those around her is heart-wrenching – the more so because we know that things like this really happened. People were really forced from their homes, searched by Nazi officers on trains as they tried to escape to a safer life in another country, and faced arrest or even death for helping those who Hitler deemed less than human.
For this reason I find that, unlike most fiction I read, I cannot forget the events of this story and the way they effected peoples' lives – I cannot continue live as if these things were complete fiction. As never before it brought to life the fact that persecution is a real thing and happens to real people – and it is evil.
"It gives us a picture – a well painted picture by a talented artist – of how people faced an overwhelming darkness..."It is impossible to read this book and not to learn compassion for a people who were attacked simply for being Jews – or even just for helping Jews! Friends were lost, families broken apart, homes were stolen, and lives were changed forever. Thoene uses her writing skills to bring these people to life in a powerful way. She can make you care about them.
Being a Christian myself, it strengthened my faith in God's faithfulness. I couldn't help but ask myself, "What if it had been me? What would I do if my life and everything I loved seemed to be slipping away?"
That, for me, is fiction worth reading.
Historical – Thrilling plot – Believable characters – Romantic settings – Unpredictable love story – Ability to make me think – My one complaint is: I can't stop reading it!
© Anna Morton 2017