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Bits and bobs about my life in my lovely home, Thatchwick Cottage, Pretoria, South Africa.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Night falls on the city"

The golden statue of  Johann Strauss and his violin in the Stadtpark typifies the joyous spirit of Vienna. Ruth and I walked the famous Ring Road on a hot, muggy Sunday afternoon. We kept to the shade as far as we could and continually sidestepped the cyclists whose route seemed to have precedence over our pedestrian walkway.  We admired the grand grey stone buildings: the Opera House, the gardens of the Imperial Palace, the gate to the Hofburg palace, the Rathaus and Town Hall, the Burg Theatre, the University.
Memories of our time in Wien persuaded me to choose a novel of Vienna as my Book Club choice this week. And I have been engrossed every since.  As the paperback version of “Night falls on the City” by Sarah Gainham is 610 pages, I still have several more evenings tucked up in bed for an hour’s reading before I finish. This novel starts on the eve of Anschluss between Hitler’s Germany and Austria and ends with the Russian invasion of the city after six year’s of Occupation. The sweep of those most tragic years is carried by a clever literary structure: five ‘books’ each cover a ‘moment’ during the war period in the lives of the characters.  The main character is indeed a leading lady, Julia Homburg, star of the Burg Theatre. Or, is the main character Vienna itself? This story is firmly located in Wien, its streets, parks, beer halls and elegant cafes, grand apartments and mean working class quarters. The author’s intimate knowledge of the city is a significant part of the story’s power. Sarah Gainham’s several novels are all set in Central Europe and this was her triumph. Gainham was born in London in 1914 and settled in Vienna in 1947 as central European correspondent for important newspapers and worked through the decades of the 50s and 60s. She died in Austria in 1999.  
 I selected the book (first published in 1967 and an international bestseller) above the attractive piles of the latest contemporary novels. It has not disappointed.
At our vibrant book club evening, Sylvia remarked: “Another war book! Have you noticed how many books we have read that are about wars – the World Wars, the Anglo-Boer war, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iran! ” Theresa answered: “There will always be stories of conflict. No one ever gets over a war.”  And those of us who gratefully have never experienced war still try to plumb how it happens so easily and so often.

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