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Room With a View

Simon Mawer's Booker-shortlisted novel The Glass Room could easily be banal. It is not.

Book Cover The possibility of Simon Mawer’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel The Glass Room (Other Press) running off the tracks into banality is immanent in its elements—thankfully, it stays the course, as a superlative story ranging over 60 years (1929-1990) of the 20th century.

Set in post-WWI central Europe, Jewish Victor marries gentile Liesel. They honeymoon in Venice and meet an exuberant and zealously modernist architect, Ranier, whom they decide will build them a house on land gifted to them by Liesel’s parents. Located on a hill overlooking Mesto (which means town or city in Czech), the Haus Landauer is a paradigm of modernist architecture: steel, chrome glass, and one wall in the dominant space known as the Glass Room is a solid sheet of onyx.

Children are born, salons are held, affairs are had. When the alert Victor sees the inevitable following the Anschluss (Nazi Germany annexes Austria) and the occupation of Sudetenand, the Landauers disembark for Switzerland, then Cuba and ultimately the United States. Meanwhile, the house is commandeered by the Nazis for so-called biometric studies to create science that can support an apodictic racial taxonomy, i.e., to identify with certainty what are Jewish (untermensch) characteristics. The head scientist (a true believer) becomes a potential lifeline to Liesel’s best friend Hana who stayed behind with her Jewish husband and who are now suffering the consequences of their good faith. There are more affairs and passion and great loss, none of which is tawdry or mawkish. And at the end of various and major political transformations, the Glass House remains standing.
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