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Monday, 25 February 2013

Natasha Solomons - The Novel in the Viola

reviewed on recorded bookshow by Ro Bennett (aired March 2013)
Book Description:
In the Spring of 1938, Elise Landau arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay. A bright young thing from Vienna forced to become a parlour-maid, she knows nothing about England, except that she won’t like it. As servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn, Elise wears her mother’s pearls beneath her uniform and causes outrage by dancing with a boy called Kit. But war is coming, the world is changing and Elise must change with it. At Tyneford she learns that she can be more than one person - and that you can love more than once. 

I found this a page turner and sat and read it almost in one sitting, staying up until the early hours to finish it. Elise comes from a happy, musical and close Jewish family in Austria. Her parents are both famous - her father is an author and her mother a musician and singer. Unpleasant things are beginning to happen to the Jews in Austria and the parents and oldest sister and husband are all planning to go to America where the Metropolitan Opera will help them with a visa. However, nineteen year old Elise doesn’t qualify for a visa and the plan is that she will work in England and once in the USA, her parents will apply for a visa for their daughter. 

It was a thought provoking book with lots of suspense - but there were also bits which I found  implausible which did detract and spoil it for me a bit, but over all it was worth reading.  

I bought the book for 1p plus postage of £2.80 from  Amazon, but unfortunately the print was small and it was straining my eyes, so I ended up downloading it onto my ipad so I could read it with a large font. 

On Natasha Solomon’s website she mentions that she wanted to write a story set in the ‘ghost village’ of Tyneham in Dorset, which was requisitioned by the War Office in 1943. The villagers were forced to leave their cottages on Christmas Eve. They left pinning this note to the church door:
‘Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.’
But, they were never allowed back and the village is now a ruin. It is situated on one of the most beautiful stretches of the Dorset coast – but the land is still owned by the Ministry of Defence and visitors are only allowed occasionally. So the village of Tyneford is based on Tyneham. 

Then the author continues: While I was pondering Tyneham, I read an article in a magazine about Jewish women who managed to escape Nazi Europe by becoming domestic servants in Britain. Many of these women had led privileged lives with servants of their own and had to come to terms with their new positions. In a ‘eureka moment’ I realised that I needed to tell the story of Tyneham and the last days of an English country house, through the eyes of an outsider and a servant– a young Jewish girl from Vienna.

Natasha Solomons also wrote Mr Rosenblum’s list which I didn’t like as much although there were some excellent recipes in it. 

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