The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

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I was so pleasantly surprised by this novel. I had my doubts during the first 60 pages, but I’m genuinely glad I stuck with it.

A friend of mine gave me this novel back in early January when I was visiting her and her family in Prague. She had told me it was a good interpretation of Czech life/culture and the use of the language was impressive, so she thought I should Czech it out 😉

The novel starts off a bit slow- that is one of my only complaints. And I suppose the content of the first 60 pages or so is not generally the type of stuff I would read– it is about the building of a house that contains a glass room, an architectural wonder of the time. This is in the very early 1900s.  The young couple is very affluent and the husband is traveling to Austria often and sleeping with a prostitute, of course whom he is falling in love with– sounds kind of ugh right? A nice subversive subplot, the wife is sleeping with her best friend, Hana. So it’s kind of a mess- and I don’t really feel sorry for these characters at the moment…but then Nazis begin to grow and mature.

What I found interesting was how the Nazis kind of were just cruising around feeling out people with money and integrating themselves into society.  There is some really thoughtful work done by the author that brings about many questions.

There are a large number of characters, but all have one common denominator: the glass room.  First, it is the home of the couple I mention above and their two kids. They flee to Switzerland and the government takes ownership of the house. It becomes a laboratory for human experiments– measurements. The things we have heard of in history books. Then the house is empty for a long while and the butler and his sister live there. Following that, it becomes a gymnasium for recovery of kids with polio and other diseases, and lastly a museum.

I won’t labor on, but with this last paragraph in mind I think the story is quite compelling.  It just takes a little while to dig in. The prose are dense but rewarding– I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in historical fiction.

Overall rating: 4/5

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