The Glass Room

by Simon Mawer

Book, 2009



Call number




New York : Other Press, 2009.


Cool. Balanced. Modern. The precisions of science, the wild variance of lust, the catharsis of confession and the fear of failure - these are things that happen in the Glass Room. High on a Czechoslovak hill, the Landauer House shines as a wonder of steel and glass and onyx built specially for newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer, a Jew married to a gentile. But the radiant honesty of 1930 that the house, with its unique Glass Room, seems to engender quickly tarnishes as the storm clouds of WW2 gather, and eventually the family must flee, accompanied by Viktor's lover and her child. But the house's story is far from over, and as it passes from hand to hand, from Czech to Russian, both the best and the worst of the history of Eastern Europe becomes somehow embodied and perhaps emboldened within the beautiful and austere surfaces and planes so carefully designed, until events become full-circle.… (more)

Media reviews

The Glass Room is a book about a culture slipping from decadence into catastrophic decline. It's a study of a marriage. It concerns itself with art, music, architecture, indignity, loneliness, terror, betrayal, sex. And the Holocaust. It should, therefore, be pretentious, unbearable schlock of the
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most appalling kind. But it's not. It is, unexpectedly, a thing of extraordinary beauty and symmetry. The Glass Room is a novel of ideas, yet strongly propelled by plot and characterised by an almost dreamlike simplicity of telling. Comparisons with the work of Michael Frayn would not be misplaced, and there are occasional moments of illuminating brilliance, when the novel becomes like the Glass Room of the title. "It had become a palace of light, light bouncing off the chrome pillars, light refulgent on the walls ... It was as though they stood inside a crystal of salt."
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Smiler69
A gorgeous and elegantly told story about a Czech couple, Viktor and Liesl Landauer who meet an architect while they are honeymooning in Venice and ask him to design a house for them. Viktor, a Jewish man, is the head of Landauer motors, and as such very wealthy, and at the end of the 1920s, he has
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distinct ideas about what his house should be like: the opposite of the decorative classical style of previous generations; Czechoslovakia is a new country with what is believed to be a bright future, and he wants a house which exemplifies a new way of living. The architect is more interested in creating a space, or a work of art for people to live in than anything resembling a traditional home, and so the Landauer house is built, and as it's pièce de résistance is a living room contained within walls of glass with a huge slab of onyx used to separate the space; a tremendously costly and self-indulgent design element which they nonetheless can afford. The house causes much debate among those who believe it to be a triumph of minimalist design and those who claim it to be more suited to industry than to family living. The Landauer mansion is based on a real house: the Villa Tugendhat, designed in the late 1920s by Mies van der Rohe and it is immediately clear that it is the main character of the novel, through which we get an intimate glimpse into the Landauer marriage, with both Viktor and Liesl claiming to be absolutely transparent and true to one another, much like the Glass Room itself, though of course both have their secret loves and betrayals. They enjoy ten years in their unique home which is the centre of much attention, with frequent elegant parties to which celebrated musicians are invited to perform on the grand piano. As Hitler's Germany comes to power, Viktor is at first unwilling to accept that things are as bad as they seem for the Jews, but the family nonetheless escapes just in time to avoid deportation to the camps, leaving their beloved Landauer House behind as well as a big piece of Viktor's life and heart. But through the war, then the Russian occupation, then the creation of a communist state, the house is occupied by various tenants. They are in turn visited by Liesl's best friend, Hana Hanakova, who has remained behind and kept an attachment to the home of the woman she once declared her love to.

This is a beautiful novel, filled with a deep sense of melancholy, and unfulfilled dreams. The house as a central character, occupied during WWII and communism, was very reminiscent of Jenny Erpenbeck's Visitation, though the novels are very different in the stories they tell and the fates of the buildings themselves. While Erpenbeck's house slowly falls to ruins, the Landauer mansion eventually becomes a museum, preserved for all time. I loved this novel and was particularly taken with the story of the house itself, the Landauer family and Hana, and the complex relationships they form. I felt however that I was reading quite a different novel when the house becomes used as a gymnasium in communist times and was sorry to be taken away from the Landauers, though this is very much a personal preference, and takes nothing away from what I consider to be a fantastic piece of literature which is well worth taking the time to savour. 2009 was a strong year for the Booker Prize, and this novel definitely deserved it's place among the other selections on the shortlist.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
Many forces come into play when I select a book to read. Often, I rely upon the reviews and comments of other book readers whose opinions are like mine. I also take into consideration any literary awards, which often tip me off to a great book. And, of course, the story must sound compelling.

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this process, I picked The Glass Room, which seemed to be a sure-fire win for me. Several of my like-minded friends raved about this book. It was short-listed for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, which I usually have good luck with. And the plot of a Czech family caught up in the tragedy of World War II should be up my alley.

Even the best laid plans can go array, though. Sadly, that is what happened when I read The Glass Room. Despite my best efforts, this book didn't click for me.

Let me express the good qualities of this book first. First, Mawer's writing style is descriptive and rich. He can paint a picture in the mind's eye, which helps propel his novel. Additionally, he did a great job incorporating the arts into the novel. With an architectural feat such as the Glass House, that's an important thing to do, but he also wove in music, painting and sculpture - and did so beautifully. Finally, the plight of early Czechoslovakia as it struggled to get its legs between the World Wars was illuminating, and I learned more about this aspect of history.

Here's where I struggled: the characterization. It was very one-dimensional, and as a result, I didn't like one character. Perhaps I would have liked them more if Mawer had given me more information about them. His characterization centered around their sex lives. Each character's lives were qualified by their sexual activity or desires. Making this worse was the unequal descriptions about sex. Mawer fills us with intimate details about the female characters - the size of their breasts, the color of their nipples, the roundness of their bellies, the texture of their pubic hairs. However, with the male characters, we got nothing - not even a chest hair. Sex was definitely told from a male perspective in this story.

I am in the minority when it comes to The Glass House, so I encourage you to read other reviews before deciding on this book. Many other readers were moved by this story, and you might be too. As for me, I am happy that The Glass House is over and ready to find a book that better fits my fickle tastes.
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LibraryThing member kidzdoc
The Glass Room is a novel about a house, a real and remarkable one, although the story and characters are fictional. It begins with the return of Liesel Landauer, now elderly and blind, to the house that she, a gentile, shared with her husband Viktor, a prosperous Jewish manufacturer of fine
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automobiles. The Landauer House, which sits on a hill overlooking the Czechoslovakian city of Mĕsto, was designed for the young couple by a famous Viennese architect in the 1920s, and was a classic work of modern design. The centerpiece of the house is the Glass Room, which has large plate glass windows and is partitioned by a wall made of onyx that changes in appearance with the position of the sun. Mawer describes the Glass Room early in the book, as the Landauers see it for the first time:

"It had become a palace of light, light bouncing off the chrome pillars, light refulgent on the walls, light glistening on the dew in the garden, light reverberating from the glass. It as though they stood inside a crystal of salt."

The Glass Room becomes a place where anything and everything is possible, as previous structural and cultural restraints are lifted. The wealthy and sophisticated couple embrace their new home to the fullest, using it frequently to host friends and business colleagues. Liesel's best friend, Hana, a irreverent, beautiful and sexually hungry married woman, is a frequent visitor who provides vitality and spark to the setting.

However, changes are occurring in Europe that darken and threaten the couple's idyllic existence. Hitler's national socialism spreads through and beyond nearby Germany, and the livelihood of Jews in Czechoslovakia becomes slowly but progressively more difficult. The Landauers initially ignore the warnings, as their wealth and influence insulate them from the growing menace. The couple agrees to take in a young woman who has been forced to flee from Vienna, a woman who is well known to Viktor. Finally the couple decides to flee their beloved house and country, but by the time they decide to do so, the Germans have already occupied Czechoslovakia. Hana and her Jewish husband, however, decide to stay in Mĕsto.

The novel then alternates between the lives of the Landauers and the new occupants, leading up to Liesel's eventual return to the Landauer House.

This was a brilliant and near-perfect novel that covers Europe before and during World War II and the subsequent decline in European culture, and includes rich descriptions of architecture, art and music. Love, infidelity and devotion are infused throughout the book, but ultimately the main story and character is the Landauer House with its Glass Room, and the effects it has on its inhabitants and visitors.

I suppose the highest praise I could give this novel is that I would like to start reading it again from the beginning. It is easily the best of the 2009 Booker Prize longlisted books I've read so far, and would be a deserving winner of the award, in my opinion.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
Interesting, once again, how long this book sat on my shelf unread. And yet, people I knew and trusted extolled its beauty in all sorts of ways. Somehow it always got pushed aside. Until now. Now I see what everybody was talking about. I’m not surprised this book made the short list for the 2009
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Man Booker Prize. It probably would have won in another year, one where Hilary Mantel wasn’t nominated.

In the 1920s, newlyweds Liesl and Viktor Landauer hire visionary architect Rainer Von Abt to build them a house that represents the vibrant future that they see for their country. Modern and gleaming, the Landauers use their home and especially their unique and crystalline Glass Room as a place for artists and progressive thinkers to gather and share their avant-garde ideas.
As time passes, Viktor feels the need to seek the arms of another woman, putting his marriage on unsteady ground and, in time, the rumblings of war, and the coming invasion by the Nazis threatens the country of Czechoslovakia and the young Landauer family. As a Jew, Viktor feels they must escape to Switzerland.

”That autumn the Great Powers assisted at the dismemberment of the country. They witnessed the cutting off of limbs from the body, the severing of arteries, the snapping of ligaments and tendons, the sawing of bones. That autumn the Czechoslovak army stood down and watched while men in field grey tramped into Eger and Karlsbad, into Teplitz and Liberec. In the north, like a vulture taking an eye from a dying man, the Polish army snatched part of Czech Silesia. In the east Hungary took parts of Slovakia. Everywhere refugees fled from the advancing soldiers like herbivores scattering before a pack of predators. They shuffled along roads and across fields, pushing handcarts with their belongings, humping sorry bundles on their backs. The trains were packed, the roads crowded. It was the effect of war without the fighting, a kind of rehearsal for the future.” (Page 178)

The book spans sixty years and we follow the Glass Room as it moves on from its original owners and purposes and falls to the Czechs to the Nazis to the Communists and finally back to the Czech government. And each occupant feels the enormous influence it has on them.

Beautifully written, epic in scope and passion, The Glass Room is a book not to be missed. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member fist
English geezer writes book, ostensibly about a modernist house in the Czech Republic from the 1920's through the 1960's, and manages to annoy readers by:
- providing little architectural content or context. The book reads more like a story of people fornicating in a modernist house, regardless of
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the political regime;
- being creepily focused on female sex (every woman in the author's universe is of course bisexual), both as an activity and as a part of women's anatomy. There may be more lines dedicated to the scent of a women's nether regions than to the actual house - or at least I had that impression;
- being cheaply sentimental or, what's worse, cavalier with the atrocities of the Nazi period: when the family that owns the house disembarks from a train on the Spanish border, visions of Auschwitz are evoked for cheap effect. Another character spends three years in the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women, but seems to have spent that time mainly in lesbian trysts;
- not checking foreign languages. Scattering bits of Italian, Czech and German through one's text may be sufficient to impress an audience which is not too familiar with foreign languages (I'm looking at you, Brits). But when the errors become too numerous, and elaborate puns are built on plain erroneous understanding of other languages, the reading experience suffers.
- relying on a deus ex machina to provide a highly improbable but sentimental ending.
Honestly, I cannot imagine what the Booker Prize nomination jury saw in this book.
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LibraryThing member Cait86
The Glass Room is my sixth Booker Longlisted novel (my, but I am reading these slowly!), and so far, one of my favourites. Mawer is an author who merges the two and often conflicting sides of writing - that is, a compelling plot filled with interesting characters, and a writing style that is
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compelling all on its own. Often authors have one of these things, but lose the other. To me, the mark of a great book is that it can be enjoyed my those who read for the enjoyment of a great story, and for those who read for their enjoyment of language. Mawer's book is one of these.

The Glass Room spans most of the twentieth century, beginning in Czechoslovakia about 10 or 15 years after WWI. We meet Victor and Liesel Landauer, newlyweds on honeymoon in Venice. They encounter Rainer von Abt, a modernist architect who abhors all things ornate - a view that the Landauers support. Rainer is contracted to design the Landauers' new home, a masterpiece that centres around the Glass Room, a living space of light and air, a place that draws people in, and a place that sees the good and the bad in mankind.

While the first half of the novel focuses on the Landauers, Liesel's friend Hana, and Victor's mistress Katalin, the real star of this novel is the house itself. When WWII forces Victor to uproot his family, the reader returns to the Glass Room. We watch its life throughout the war, and the ways in which it is used in times of peace. It really is another character - one with as much depth and variance as Victor, Liesel, Hana, or any of the other people lucky enough to enter into its life.

Mawer's skill is in his characters, but also in his prose. His wordy, thick way of writing contrasts the light of the Glass Room, grounding his characters in a very complex world. The Glass Room seems like a world all on its own, but really, it is a space that sees human beings for what they really are - whether that be positive or not.
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LibraryThing member dmsteyn
The only book shortlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize which I haven't read previously, this book surprised me with its fairly original take on the European experience of the 20th century. Originally, I didn't read the book because I thought it was going to be a turgid WW2 novel - not that a WW2
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setting is necessarily a bad thing - but this book, although the war plays a large part, is more about the tangential effects of history on human relationships.

I enjoyed Mawer's acuity of perception when it came to character portrayal, and I found his descriptions of the house around which the story revolves (The Glass Room of the title is a room/space in the house) very interesting. The decision to focus the story on the house is a real coup on Mawer's part, with it a forming a constant basis for perspicuous metaphor and a setting for the action. I did find the constant roll-call of new characters a bit distracting - one couldn't really form a strong attachment (or dislike) towards some of the later, less individualised characters - but the main family of the story is beautifully drawn.

A small irritation was Mawer's use of the word 'humped' in the book. Every time someone lugs/carries/hauls something, Mawer writes that they 'humped' it upstairs, for instance. A peccadillo, I know, but it distracted me from the otherwise lucid and vivid language.

On the whole, an excellent book. Of the 2009 Booker nominees, I still prefer the winner, Wolf Hall, maybe even The Quickening Maze, but I am glad that I eventually got round to this book.
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LibraryThing member cameling
Every once in a while, if you're lucky, you come across beautiful writing about the frailty and strength of human relationships. This is one of those lucky moments for me.

The house of glass that was designed and built for a rich Czech couple was the epitome of modern art. They fill it with
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beautiful art, music and friends. But the glass house allows us to see what they try to hide, an unhappy marriage, loneliness , insecurities, and still, love. As the world starts to crumble into chaos with Hitler's invasion across Europe, the family flee the country.

Over time, there other inhabitants of this glass house. Caretakers turn to hoarding goods and selling them on the black market. A Nazi scientific laboratory where people are brought in and measured, to see if Jews had specific physical measurements. Russians turn it into a children's hospital for physiotherapy.

And through all this time, the glass house continues to provide us with a microscope into the lives of all who live in or pass through its panes. We're given an insight into a man who is detached from his family but becomes infatuated with a woman he meets by chance, his wife who compartmentalizes her feelings and coordinates a unique living arrangement to keep her family together, a woman who lives as a free-spirit flitting from one lover to another...until one sends her to a concentration camp in Ravensbruck, an actress who seeks to escape from her jealous husband in order to return to the silver screen, and a woman who turns to a different career once her dreams where shattered by a broken ankle.

Time passes, governments come and go, lives change, and through it all, the glass house remains.
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LibraryThing member cushlareads
The Glass Room begins in Mesto, Czechoslovakia in 1929. (Mesto is fictional – see below…) While Viktor and Liesel Landauer are on their honeymoon in Venice, they meet a German architect called Rainer von Abt. He builds them a spectacular modernist house overlooking the city. The Glass Room
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tells the story of the Landauer family, their friends and loved ones, and the house through the rest of the century.

Viktor –a Jew – owns the Landauer car factory and has no shortage of money. He’s pessimistic about Czechoslovakia’s survival, and his own, with Hitler’s rise to power, so he shovels some money into a Swiss bank account. When Germany annexes the Sudetenland, the family gets ready to leave. The Landauers spend several years in Switzerland, and take Kata, a refugee from Austria, and her daughter Marika with them. We see life in Mesto during the war through letters from Hana, Liesel’s friend, and Lanik, Viktor’s rather slimy driver.

The characters were beautifully written, especially Viktor, Liesel and Hana. There were two big coincidences in the plot though, one in the middle and one at the end. I’m not a fan of big coincidences driving the story, but it was still an excellent read. I hope it makes the Booker shortlist!
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LibraryThing member debutnovelist
A fascinating novel that centres on a house which was at the forefornt of modern architecture in pre-war Czechoslovakia, exploring the emotions and liaisons which tool place in its famous 'Glassraum' from the rise of the Nazis (trhe owner of the house was a Jew) to the Communist era and beyond.
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This is a fascinating study of time and place with an epic quality. The house is the true star of the show, but that doesn't detract from the power of the human dramas that unfold in and around it.
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LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
Ponderous cliched writing and relentless, predictable foreboding doomed this read for me. The story of the Landauers, wealthy industrialist patrons of the arts who hire an avant-garde architect to build them a modernist masterpiece of a house could have been compelling, but was somehow so
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pretentious that I couldn't muster up the energy to care about either of them. Sadly, the people that follow them in the story weren't worth caring about for me, either.

The architect in the novel is modeled after Mies van der Rohe, the house is modeled after the Tugendhadt House in Brno. There is a glass room in the house that Mawer uses as the transparent stage for all of the characters in this book that ranges over time through the Holocaust and into the next century. The metaphor is crystal clear, but what the author does with it just wasn't compelling for me. I didn't care about anyone in this book or anything that happened. Instead, I spent most of the book pondering the modernist aesthetic in architecture, painting, and sculpture and whether or not it has held up over time. This pondering was only loosely inspired by the book's subject matter and, I suspect, was more likely my imagination's way of keeping my brain occupied while I ploughed through this book.

I know that lots of people really loved this book and it was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, but for me it was torturous and awful. I gave it two stars because the modernist aesthetic is interesting to think about and I hadn't done so in awhile. I don't think that's a ringing endorsement.
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LibraryThing member LiterateHousewife
Viktor and Liesel Landauer are newlyweds in a plum position in Czechoslovakia prior to the stirrings of World War II. They have land given to them by Liesel’s parents. That, along with Viktor’s wealth from his automobile company, provides them the opportunity to conceive of and bring to life
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their dream house. It is the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who brings their vision of perfection to life, a house predominately of glass and steal. When people know what to think of the house, they are amazed. The glass room, which has panels that will completely slide down to the lower level of the house, is especially impressive. The Landauers host parties and support the arts through the use of their house. In such minimalistic surroundings, there is no where to hide. They take pride in house in that it requires them to live a transparent life with no secrets. It doesn’t take long, however, before there are plenty of secrets. Viktor takes a lover and, after the near fatal birth of their second and last child, Liesel finds solace and comfort in her friend, Hana. Both women are young, sophisticated Czechoslovakians, both of whom have married Jewish men. Despite the upheaval Viktor’s affair brings to their marriage, the Laudauer family must flee together to escape the Nazis, leaving their future and their home to fate.

I found The Glass Room a fascinating novel. It was about the house, which could have only come into existence because of the relationship with Viktor and Liesel. Regardless of what they were trying to portray, their minimalistic home was a reflection of their sparse relationship. They were not compelled or forced into their marriage, yet I never got a real sense of why they wanted to marry in the first place. While they claim that the lack of walls allows for no secrets or deception, I found it to really say that there was no structure or support for their marriage or themselves. Could the house have been brought into existence by a couple in love or did the house create an atmosphere that simply didn't foster what could have otherwise been a warm, loving marriage?

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this novel is that it is based upon, Villa Tugendhat, a home actually designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The fact that there was such a house and an onyx wall really captured my imagination. Not only was I able to see how the Laudauer's Glass Room shifted and changed as it was lived in and used over time, I was able to read about what happened to Villa Tugendhat as well. As with Loving Frank, I loved how this novel combined historical fiction along with architectural history. I really love that in a novel and that surprises me a little. I'm not otherwise someone who is curious about architecture. Perhaps because it gives the story structure as well it just makes sense to me.

I cannot say enough about The Glass Room. It was one of the last books I read in 2009 and will be listed among my favorites. I enjoyed the stories of the people populating the Glass Room as much as I enjoyed spending time there. This is my first novel by Simon Mawer and I found him to be an excellent writer and story teller. That this novel was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize does not surprise me at all. It was just that good.
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LibraryThing member bodachliath
This book is unusual in that its central character is a building rather than a person, though the story has a strong personal element too. The story is fictional, but the house in Prague is real. Mawer follows it through all of the upheavals of 20th century Czech history, and captures the
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atmospheres brilliantly.
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LibraryThing member blackhornet
This is a fantastic read. I guess a review is meant to say that the house is the star (fictionalised version of glass and concrete Tugendhat House, built in Brno, Czechoslovakia, between the wars). Certainly the recurrence of the house in its several guises gives the novel an arresting focus; but
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it is the story of the family who commisioned it and their circle of friends that really grips. Just as the sheer glass front to the building means that it contains no secrets, so those who inhabit it have their secrets revealed to the reader and the other characters. The secrets generally concern sex. The serious heart of the novel is its account of the central characters fleeing Nazi occupation, but it also offers insights into the various motivations that spark sexual encounters.
The narrative is gripping throughout. My one qualm is the book's tendency to portray its working class characters, such as the house's caretaker, in a stereotypical light, with no serious attempt at analysing the class relations all too ripe for examination.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
The home commissioned by automobile maker Victor Landauer and his wife Liesel in 1929 has as a focal point The Glass Room. It is a house built by Modernist architect Rainer Von Abt, who follows Victor's insistence that the house reflect something new rather than continue the tradition of the old,
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ornamental style that was prevalent among the European wealthy of the time. It sits above a town on a hill in Czechoslovakia, with spectacular views, and it offered "the most remarkable experience of modern living," a theme that runs throughout the novel and throughout time. The story (without going into much plot detail here) follows the lives of the Landauers while they are both in and away from the house, having to leave Czechoslovakia because of the Nazi occupation and Hitler's actions against the Jews. While times change, the house and the Glass Room remain, serving as vehicles through which history plays out through several regimes -- the Nazis, the Soviets, and then through the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The writing is excellent -- and although the Landauer's story depends a lot on coincidence (which normally I don't like to see in a novel), here it actually works. Mawer's characterizations are wonderful, and the house itself stands as probably the most important character in the novel. The author also has this incredible sense of place and time that make the story real, believable, and well worth reading.

It's definitely a book full of symbolism and observations, but in the interest of not wanting to spoil things for other readers, I'll merely note that there are a myriad of places on the internet where you can read more in depth about this book.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants an outstanding read, and I must say, this is one of the best of the Booker Prize nominees this year. People who enjoy good historical fiction will definitely want to read this as well. The Glass Room is truly an amazing book.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
A lovely book based around the experiences of the Landauer family as first the Nazis and then the Communists overrun Czechoslovakia. While on honeymoon in Venice in 1928, Viktor and Liesel Landauer met Rainer von Abt, an aspiring architect who is obsessed by the burgeoning modernist movement. The
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Landauers are very wealyth (Viktor owns the prestigious Czech-based Landauer Motor Company), and they decide to commission their marital home from von Abt. He proceeds to design and then build a marvellous, unique house, set into the side of a hill in which the walls of the lower storey are made of glass. The description of the building is precise but never laboured, and the reader is wholly convinced of the startling and enticing house that von Abt has created.
For the next ten years the Landauers live there, seeming ly content, though the transparency of their living arrangements is not sufficient to prevent them from keeping their dark secrets. Meanwhile events in Europe gradually conspire to render their own menace, especially as Viktor Landauer is Jewish, and the menace of the Nazis moves ever closer. there is a marvellous scene in which Viktor, Liesel and their friend Hana listen to a radio broadcast of Neville Chamberlain speaking after his now infamous meeting with Hitler in Munich in 1938. Appeasing Britons may have allowed themselves to be swayed by Chamberlain's platitudinous rambling but the three Czechs immediately recognise the truth of their situation.
The Germans duly annex the Sudetenland and beyond, and the Landauers decide that their best policy might be flight, though their circumstances have already become additionally complicated by the presence in their lives of Katalin, with whom Viktor has had a few adulterous encounters, and her daughter Marika.
Beautifully written and meticulously plotted, this novel is one of the most enjoyable, but also moving, books I have read all year.
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LibraryThing member freelancer_frank
This is a book about modernism. It is constructed, rather like a Cubist painting, from many short scenes. Each scene has its own point in time and its own character's point of view and each is beautifully crafted and nuanced. It would almost be possible to shuffle these, like a pack of cards, and
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come up with a different book but the same story. The one constant is the glass room, a constant that is as hollow and empty as it is striking and attractive. The duality between the hollow and the attractive lies at the heart of many scenes and underpins the eroticism that Mawer deploys throughout. The characters are all compelling, alive and original. The story is subtle, quirky and ingenious. Even the reliance, at points, on rather heavy-handed co-incidence appears to fit the whole.
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LibraryThing member DubaiReader
An excellent read.

An excellent book based on the events of WWII but from the point of view of characters in Czechoslovakia.

Using the house as the central character, Mawer brilliantly interweaves the support characters of Liesel and her husband Viktor, owner of Landauer cars in Czechoslovakia.
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Vicktor is Jewish and as WWII looms and the Nazis gain in strength, he and Lisel are forced to leave with their two children and flee west. Liesel's vivacious friend Hana remains in Czechoslovakia, also with a Jewish husband, Vicktor's accountant. This inevitably makes for interesting comparisons on their fates.
There are several other characters who come and go, not least Vicktor's mistress, Kata, but I think my favourite has to be von Abt, the architect. With his clear vision of how the house is to look when finished, he effectively steam-rollers any diversions proposed by the family who will eventually be living in it.

The majority of the book concerns the Landauer family, but the last third wraps up the story by following the fate of the house during Nazi occupation and beyond. Several additional characters appear briefly and neatly tie up all the loose ends.
I was so sad that Liesel, when she finally returns to see the house of her dreams, is blind and has to imagine it.

The book is based around a real house and pictures are available on the internet - search Tugendhat House or Glass Raum. I was particularly interested to see the onyx wall.

I really enjoyed this book and wondered how come I'd never read any of the author's previous 7 books? If they are as good as this then I shall be busy for a while!
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LibraryThing member splinfo
I wanted to love this book, rather I liked it. The writing was beautiful, the sense of the spaces architectural and personal was the highlight for me and maybe the point. The twists of plot were pretty dang fantastic; as in over the top. A little disappointed in the end.
LibraryThing member otterley
The Landauer House, with its central glass room, is at the heart of the novel. A masterpiece of modernist architecture, it survives war and bombs, remaining impervious to use as a house, as a Nazi eugenics centre and as a dance studio, finishing as a historical monument. Perhaps because this
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artefact of glass, wood, onyx and marble is the centre of the novel, the human story around it seems to take second place. Although it involves both intimate dramas of love, sex and betrayal, and the geopolitics of war and communism, the emotions never quite have the resonance that they might and the story feels as pristine and designed as the house it inhabits.
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LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
The Glass Room is centered around a modern piece of architecture in Czechoslovakia and its shifting function through the second world war. It begins as a very modern house, minimalist exterior with one wall of glass and another wall of onyx in its main room. It was built for a young and hopeful
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honeymooning couple who have their sights set on the sleek and artful future, and wanted a dwelling to match. But as Czechoslovakia is overtaken by the turmoil of WWII, the Landauer family is forced to leave their home behind, as the state possesses it and turns it into a medical ward. The story splits in two at this point: the Landauers' exile and uncertain future, and the home and people they left behind in Czechoslovakia.

The idealistic dreams of modernism that were first embodied in the house slip further and further from its charms, as it metamorphoses into a clinical and unlivable scientific ward for Nazi eugenics. Czechoslovakia itself disintegrates, divided up by larger and more powerful countries, and the house remains as a testament to a country which once was but no longer is.

The modernist spirit itself would eschew the house's final function as a museum, as "museums are just like churches, they're memorials to something that's finished - the past or religion. Either is pure fantasy." But history, culture, and national identity cannot be simply done away with, nor should they be. Czechoslovakia's tumultuous history (and that of the subsequent nations after its dissolution) in the wake of both world wars drastically shaped its social landscape, and an informed hope for the future must also be grounded in the past - a solid foundation alongside the boundless space of glass.
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LibraryThing member trav
I bought this book solely on the recommendation of Anne Kingman in the "Books on the Nightstand" podcast. Too be honest. I never... never... would have picked up this book at the bookstore. It's just not my usual area. But this one, set in the dawning of WWII in the smaller border countries of
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Europe, really is well done. And I highly recommend it.

Yes, it is a bit of a romance book, but there is enough geo-political, nationalistic thought that it all kind of makes sense. Even though this one is a bit more heavy in the, ahem, 'relations' area than I'm used to, that really didn't get in the way either. All of the passions really make sense. Whether for other people, their country, their social status or their house.

Ah, the house. It is central to the story. It is the anchor of the story. Some have said it becomes it's own character and while I won't go that far I certainly appreciated the role it plays. The descriptions of such a modern architectural home were fantastic. The story follows a well-to-do couple in Europe in between WWi and WWII. They elect to build a modern house with glass walls all of the way around. The family and house are received about as well as you can imagine in such a traditional part of the world back in the early to mid-1900's. Much of the story revolves around the relationships of a core group of friends and society types. There is love, affairs, work, travel, etc. and then was looms. And all of the fantasy and such goes out the window when it comes time for them to answer: jew or not jew?

I'm told that if you read a lot of literary romance fiction, this one might feel cliche at times, but I never felt that way.

I did read this on my phone via the Kobo reader app and really enjoyed it. The bookmark feature was fun to use. I only noticed 6 errors, which is waaaaay less than any Kindle book I have ever bought. This is one I will look for though and buy as a paper book so that it can sit on my shelf for me to loan and talk about.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
The plot is set in Czechoslovakia before, during and after the Second World War. It’s somewhat based on real events, and a real place, the Glass Room (Villa Tugendhat), which is a house built in the thirties of the twentieth century, very modern and spacey with a translucent onyx wall, travertine
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floors and floor to ceiling windows, giving an illusion of a ‘glass room’. It’s still there, in Brno, and can be visited by general public, but the story that unfolds in the book has little to do with the real story of the Jewish family that lived there and abandoned it once the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia (except for that fact apparently).

Many characters inhabit the house as the times change and years go by. We see them defined by their relationship to the house and mostly by the sexual relationships they have- but they are never fully explored as characters. The plan for the house had its fictional origin in the sexual tension between the architect and the owner, so there is some justification for it in the story, but there is a multitude of characters, and they almost only seem to be going to bed with each other. We almost never meet them in other situations. It seems as if the author wasn’t able to figure out a non-sexual, non-committal relationship, and its use in the story. Even a sixty year old woman has to fall in love with a twenty year old one (after having fallen in love and having had sex with other characters there as well) to be able to pour her life out to her. They can’t just become friends, or compassionate acquaintances- such a situation is apparently too difficult for the author to figure out. And, then there are things that are just plain corny there, the ending included.

There are some interesting aspects to the story, with the house being an anchor to the plot and a metaphor for transparency and peace, abused by both the people inhabiting it and by history, and definitely interesting language games, but they get drowned by the corniness there.
What comes to mind, vaguely, is the atmosphere of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera, but in a much worse shape and form.
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LibraryThing member fjpreader
Overall I enjoyed the book but at times felt frustrated by the actions of the characters. You didn't get a clear sense why they made many of the choices they made. Liked the writing and the role of the house as an inegral part of the book though.
LibraryThing member alexdaw
I read this a while ago but forgot to write a review - it was when all the Booker Prize hullabaloo was going on and I was in a mad panic to try and read them all before it was announced. What a foolish endeavour!! Did you see the size of some of those shortlisted????? Wolf Hall had to be returned
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to the library - there was no way I was going to finish that in time! I had just started this book when a friend said - "Oh I didn't like it - too Austrian!" Well I don't know what Austrian is - cold? unfeeling? But I did like this book very much. Perhaps it was the idea of a young couple trying to create a perfect house/world for their new family when the world was becoming unhinged. Perhaps it was the account of people not quite believing what was happening at the prelude to WWII and what tips them to seek safety when the truth becomes too alarmingly clear. The characters were clearly defined and I did want to know what happened to them. I do like Glass Houses (read Bau Haus type architecture) very much and I liked the idea/premise of what happens to people who choose to live in them.
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