THE GLASS ROOM by Simon Mawrer is the story of a fabulous house (based upon the Villa Tugendhat in Brno) built in Czechoslovakia in the late 1920s for a young couple. When the Nazis took over Austria in 1938, the couple fled to Switzerland with their young family, because the husband was Jewish. Subsequently, they relocated to the United States.
But the book is not about the couple who commissioned the house. Rather, it is about the house itself. So after the main characters disappear in the middle of France in around 1942, we are yanked back to the house and introduced to a new cast of characters. To the Germans who used it as a laboratory. To the Soviets who overran it on their way to Berlin. To the people who lived in Communist Czechoslovakia. And finally to the people who wanted to restore it.
In many ways, this is a wonderful book. Simon Mawrer is an accomplished writer with an ear for the nuances of many languages, not just English. But the major problem for me happened when he abandoned the original family is France and yanked the reader back to the house. At that point, I started to skim, because it was just too hard for me to connect with a new cast of characters I didn’t know, especially when I was dying to find out what happened to the young family. It seems to me that either Mr. Mawrer should have kept his focus on the family and what happened to them, or made the beginning part of the book much shorter, so that the reader wouldn’t become so invested in what happened to Liesel and Viktor, and therefore not disappointed when the focus of the book suddenly shifted back to the house. Four stars.