Thanks to Kaite, who recommended I read this book! For me, there’s always a moment of hesitation before starting a Christian novel. Because the market is smaller, quality writing can be difficult to find in this genre. This was not the case with Tydale House Publisher’s Vienna Prelude. (Also, if you’re generally one to shy away from “religious” stuff, fear not! This novel definitely has wide appeal.) The first of a series, Vienna Prelude is both well-researched and well-written. Apparently, this is to be expected from Thoene and her husband, a writing team who hold doctoral degrees in creative writing and history, respectively. It’s not every day a reader gets to benefit from such expertise, and it was refreshing.
The story takes place mostly in Vienna, in the few years leading up to WWII. We watch, from the standpoint of a few interesting characters, as Germany and then Austria succumb to Hitler’s increasing power. Elisa Lindheim – a half-Jewish Berliner who inherited her Aryan mother’s looks – is a violinist with the Vienna Orchestra. As her hometown of Berlin is slowly taken over with Nazis and a general feeling of foreboding, she smartly shortens her Jewish name to a more generic “Linder”. The new name, together with her perfectly Aryan appearance, helps her melt into obscurity even as her father is hounded by Nazi officals and eventually taken to the concentration camp in Dachau. John Murphy is an American reporter in Europe who, unlike the people trapped in the midst of it, is always able to see the truth behind the events leading up to another inevitable great war. He is an outsider, and it helps him to see things clearly. His greatest frustration is his home country’s apathy at reports of the darkness closing in on Europe. Whereas they are preoccupied with the marriage of King Edward to Wallis Simpson, he struggles to portray the horrors of Spanish civil war. His powerlessness in this regard, however, compels him to help in a few secret operations in and around Germany and Austria. Elisa, powerless to save her father, also soon becomes involved in illegal activites, like smuggling German Jewish children to safety. The storylines of these two run mostly in parallel for half the book, and then start to intermingle in interesting ways.
Usually I am not that interested in politics, and history scares me. (I know, you’d never think it to look at how much hist-fic I read, but the truth is it’s the only way I can stand to learn about it!) Still, this book helped me to understand a bit more the events leading into the war and the holocaust. The author portrays Murphy’s frustration, and Elisa’s often two-mindedness about what’s happening around her, perfectly. The follies of Europe’s international relations are related through Murphy’s eyes, instead of relayed in a sort of sterile way, which is something too many other historical novels do. Thanks to this method, I never felt like I was simply being told the details I should know, or be expected to know – I was shown.
While the book didn’t have a definitive beginning, middle, end, I still found it paced well. Jumping from viewpoint to viewpoint, there were enough cliffhangers to keep me reading while at the same time not making me wait too long to find out what would happen to this or that person next. That said, because it is part of a series, the prologue (annoyingly) had nothing to do with the rest of the book, and several subplots were left unresolved. Much as I don’t like this, and much as I want to know what happens, I don’t know if I have the patience to read eight more books. This first one was enjoyable, yes, but it had a happy enough ending for me to live in peace. My final verdict? It was good – not great – but it might be something for you to reach for if you’re in for a long and entertaining walk through the happenings of the Second World War.