This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
Set against the backdrop of Europe, mainly between the wars, this is a story of love and people finding themselves and their place in the world. I was drawn into the lives and the stories of Eve, Julia, Frau Berndt, Rolf and Elsa, who lived in early 20th century Vienna. They lived when there was little tolerance of diversity, so their lives were made even more difficult.
It is a study of gay families at that time during the terrifying rise of Naziism. Two women, Julia and Eve, fall in love and bring up a child together, with the additional help of their gay friend, Rolf. The child, Elsa, grows up and falls in love with the son of a high-ranking Nazi.
Recently I went to see the play Leopoldstadt by Tom Stoppard and so when much of this book is placed in the town of Leopoldstadt I began to understand why this area came about.
The hatred that Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor held for the Jews led to the forceful expulsion and destruction of the Jewish community, with the popular support of the local non-Jewish population. As a thanksgiving for the expulsion, the inhabitants renamed the area Leopoldstadt (“Leopold’s city”), after the emperor.
This area then became a refuge for all others who were not accepted by mainstream society and so it was that Julia, Eve, Rolf and Frau Berndt made this their home.
This book is a fascinating reflection on society in the early 20th century as Europe started to implode and hatred for certain people was on the rise.
Have we learnt anything? This book highlights that circumstances may have changed but still we have so many thousands seeking refuge away from their natural home. However, this does not kill love and relationships still blossom.
Whilst a work of fiction it still sends a strong message through the characters which develop and grow on the reader. Maybe this was the point i.e. ignorance and lack of tolerance is very destructive.
I loved this book, it was pognant and it left me with a lot to think about.