The House at Tyneford

The House at Tyneford

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by Natasha Solomons
     
 

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The start of an affair, the end of an era.

Fans of Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden, Catherine Bailey's The Secret Rooms, and TV's Downton Abbey will love this New York Times bestselling sweeping historical novel of love and loss. It's the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old

Overview

The start of an affair, the end of an era.

Fans of Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden, Catherine Bailey's The Secret Rooms, and TV's Downton Abbey will love this New York Times bestselling sweeping historical novel of love and loss. It's the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlor maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford's young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely friendship that will transform Tyneford—and Elise—forever.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Elise must leave her glittering life in 1938 Vienna to become a parlor maid in an English manor house. Falling in love with the master's son throws Elise into a life heretofore unimagined as the world around her is in similar upheaval. VERDICT An old-fashioned novel with a modern tone set in the World War II era, with all the tragedy and survival spirit of the time. (LJ 12/11)
Times Literary Supplement (London)
"Both a love story set during the Second World War and an elegy to the English country house . . . the greatest pleasure of the novel is its stirring narrative and the constant sense of discovery."
Psychologies Magazine (UK)
"A vivid and poignant story about hope, loss, and reinvention."
The Times (London)
"A deeply touching and blissfully romantic elegy for a lost world."
Kristin Hannah
"Natasha Solomons has written a lovely, atmospheric novel full of charming characters and good, old fashioned storytelling. Fans of Downton Abbey and Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden will absolutely adore The House at Tyneford."
Kathleen Grissom
"The House at Tyneford is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel that takes you back in time to the manor homes, aristocracy and domestic servants of England. In this setting, Natasha Solomons gives us a courageous heroine whose incredible love story will keep you in suspense until the final page."
Katherine Howe
"The House at Tyneford is an exquisite tale of love, family, suspense, and survival. Capturing with astonishing detail and realism a vanished world of desire and hope trapped beneath rigid class convention, Natasha Solomons's stunning new novel tells the story of Elise Landau, a Jewish Austrian teenager from a family of artists, who is forced to flee her home in Vienna carrying only a guide to household management and her father's last novel, hidden on pages stuffed inside a viola. Elise hides as a parlor maid in a fine English country estate, but soon she discovers that passion can be found in the most unexpected places. Already a bestseller in Britain, American readers will thrill to The House at Tyneford."
Time Magazines Literary Supplement (London)
"Both a love story set during the Second World War and an elegy to the English country house . . . the greatest pleasure of the novel is its stirring narrative and the constant sense of discovery."
-Times Literary Supplement (London)
"Both a love story set during the Second World War and an elegy to the English country house . . . the greatest pleasure of the novel is its stirring narrative and the constant sense of discovery."
-Psychologies Magazine (UK)
"A vivid and poignant story about hope, loss, and reinvention."
-Kristin Hannah
"Natasha Solomons has written a lovely, atmospheric novel full of charming characters and good, old fashioned storytelling. Fans of Downton Abbey and Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden will absolutely adore The House at Tyneford."
-Kathleen Grissom
"The House at Tyneford is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel that takes you back in time to the manor homes, aristocracy and domestic servants of England. In this setting, Natasha Solomons gives us a courageous heroine whose incredible love story will keep you in suspense until the final page."
-Katherine Howe
"The House at Tyneford is an exquisite tale of love, family, suspense, and survival. Capturing with astonishing detail and realism a vanished world of desire and hope trapped beneath rigid class convention, Natasha Solomons's stunning new novel tells the story of Elise Landau, a Jewish Austrian teenager from a family of artists, who is forced to flee her home in Vienna carrying only a guide to household management and her father's last novel, hidden on pages stuffed inside a viola. Elise hides as a parlor maid in a fine English country estate, but soon she discovers that passion can be found in the most unexpected places. Already a bestseller in Britain, American readers will thrill to The House at Tyneford."
-The Times (London)
"A deeply touching and blissfully romantic elegy for a lost world."
From the Publisher
"Natasha Solomons has written a lovely, atmospheric novel full of charming characters and good, old fashioned storytelling.  Fans of Downton Abbey and Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden will absolutely adore The House at Tyneford."—Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale

"The House at Tyneford is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel that takes you back in time to the manor homes, aristocracy and domestic servants of England. In this setting, Natasha Solomons gives us a courageous heroine whose incredible love story will keep you in suspense until the final page."—Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House

“The House at Tyneford is an exquisite tale of love, family, suspense, and survival. Capturing with astonishing detail and realism a vanished world of desire and hope trapped beneath rigid class convention, Natasha Solomons's stunning new novel tells the story of Elise Landau, a Jewish Austrian teenager from a family of artists, who is forced to flee her home in Vienna carrying only a guide to household management and her father's last novel, hidden on pages stuffed inside a viola. Elise hides as a parlor maid in a fine English country estate, but soon she discovers that passion can be found in the most unexpected places. Already a bestseller in Britain, American readers will thrill to The House at Tyneford.”—Katherine Howe, New York Times bestselling author of The House of Velvet and Glass

“Like Downton, this romance compellingly explores the upstairs-downstairs dynamic of estate life.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Solomons’s poignant tale provides richly textured details that hold the reader’s interest. Fans of Ann Patchett will find Solomons’s style similar and will appreciate how the subdued tone and the quiet of the countryside contrast with the roar of war.”—Library Journal

“Halfway though, I was so invested in this gorgeously written story that I could barely read on, fearful that what I wished to happen would never come to pass. Permeated with an exquisite sadness, it reminded me of Atonement . . . I adored this book.”—Donna Marchetti, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101559338
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/27/2011
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
38,841
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Table of Contents

Title Page

About the Author

Copyright Page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter One - General Observations on Quadrupeds

Chapter Two - In the Bathtub, Singing

Chapter Three - An Eggcup of Salt Water

Chapter Four - Enough Clouds for a Spectacular Sunset

Chapter Five - The Wrong Door

Chapter Six - Seventeen Gates

Chapter Seven - Mr. Rivers

Chapter Eight - Like Samson I Will Not Cut My Hair

Chapter Nine - Kit

Chapter Ten - Fish and a Rose-Patterned Teacup

Chapter Eleven - Balaam and Balak

Chapter Twelve - Diana and Juno

Chapter Thirteen - The Birthday and Broken Glass

Chapter Fourteen - The End of Us All

Chapter Fifteen - Maybe Tomorrow

Chapter Sixteen - Miss Landau

Chapter Seventeen - Black Dogs and White Gloves

Chapter Eighteen - The Anna

Chapter Nineteen - Witch-Stones

Chapter Twenty - A Gull on the Horizon

Chapter Twenty-one - My Name Is Alice

Chapter Twenty-two - Run, Rabbit, Run

Chapter Twenty-three - Red Flags

Chapter Twenty-four - “We Thank You Kindly for Not Smoking in the Bedrooms”

Chapter Twenty-five - I Live Not Where I Love

Chapter Twenty-six - The Novel in the Viola

 

Author’s Note

Sneak Peek at The Song of Hartgrove Hall

A PLUME BOOK

THE HOUSE AT TYNEFORD

NATASHA SOLOMONS is a screenwriter and the internationally bestselling author of Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English. She lives with her husband in Dorset, England.

 

 

 

 

Advance Praise for The House at Tyneford

 

“Natasha Solomons has written a lovely, atmospheric novel full of charming characters and good, old-fashioned storytelling. Fans of Downton Abbey and Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden will absolutely adore The House at Tyneford.”

—Kristin Hannah, bestselling author of Night Road

 

The House at Tyneford is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel that takes you back in time to the manor homes, aristocracy, and domestic servants of England. In this setting, Natasha Solomons gives us a courageous heroine whose incredible love story will keep you in suspense until the final page.”

—Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House

 

The House at Tyneford is an exquisite tale of love, family, suspense, and survival. Capturing with astonishing detail and realism a vanished world of desire and hope trapped beneath rigid class convention, Natasha Solomons’ stunning new novel tells the story of Elise Landau. Already a bestseller in Britain, American readers will thrill to The House at Tyneford.”

—Katherine Howe, author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

 

“An engaging read . . . ripe for the screen.”

The Guardian (London)

 

“I really didn’t want to put this book down. I didn’t just want to know what happened, I wanted to stay with the people and find out how their stories continued. This book is a real gem.”

The Bookseller (London)

PLUME

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. • Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) • Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi–110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

 

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 

First published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Originally published in

Great Britain as The Novel in the Viola by Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton.

 

First American Printing, January 2012

Copyright © Natasha Solomons, 2011

All rights reserved

“Concerto in D Minor” composed by Jeff Rona. © 2011 Silkscreen Music. Used with permission of Silkscreen Music.

 

REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA

 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Solomons, Natasha.

[Novel in the viola]

The house at Tyneford : a novel / Natasha Solomons.

p. cm.

Originally published as: Novel in the viola. London : Sceptre, 2011.

ISBN : 978-1-101-55933-8

1. Household employees—Fiction. 2. Immigrants—Fiction. 3. Jews—England—Fiction. 4. Aristocracy (Social class)—England—Fiction. 5. Great Britain—History—George VI, 1936-1952—Fiction. 6. England—Social life and customs—Fiction. 7. Domestic fiction. I. Title.

PS3619.O4374N68 2011

813’.6—dc22

2011029714

 

Set in Adobe Caslon Pro

 

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT QUANTITY DISCOUNTS WHEN USED TO PROMOTE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES. FOR INFORMATION PLEASE WRITE TO PREMIUM MARKETING DIVISION, PENGUIN GROUP (USA) INC., 375 HUDSON STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10014.

For Mr. S

Acknowledgments

I am hugely grateful to everyone at Plume, especially my wonderful editors Tara and Pamela. James went above and beyond, agreeing to be shaved by a Mayfair barber wielding a cutthroat razor in the name of research, while Kate allowed me to stuff her viola full of paper. Sotheby’s in London kindly helped me establish the value of a Turner in 1939, and Lisa Curzon generously shared her memories of working in service as a young refugee in 1938. Thanks to Jeff Rona, who composed the viola concerto; to Neel Hammond, who performed the viola part so beautifully; and to Michael Glenn Williams, who played the piano accompaniment (to listen to the music go to www.natashasolomons.com). Thanks as always to Jocasta; agent Stan; my parents, Carol and Clive; and to my husband and collaborator, David.

Please treat the church and houses with care;
we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free.

We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.

 

—Notice pinned to the door of Tyneford Church by departing villagers, Christmas Eve, 1941

Chapter One

General Observations on Quadrupeds

When I close my eyes I see Tyneford House. In the darkness as I lay down to sleep, I see the Purbeck stone frontage in the glow of late afternoon. The sunlight glints off the upper windows, and the air is heavy with the scents of magnolia and salt. Ivy clings to the porch archway, and a magpie pecks at the lichen coating a limestone roof tile. Smoke seeps from one of the great chimneystacks, and the leaves on the unfelled lime avenue are May green and cast mottled patterns on the driveway. There are no weeds yet tearing through the lavender and thyme borders, and the lawn is velvet cropped and rolled in verdant stripes. No bullet holes pockmark the ancient garden wall and the drawing room windows are thrown open, the glass not shattered by shellfire. I see the house as it was then, on that first afternoon.

Everyone is just out of sight. I can hear the ring of the drinks tray being prepared; on the terrace a bowl of pink camellias rests on the table. And in the bay, the fishing boats bounce upon the tide, nets cast wide, the slap of water against wood. We have not yet been exiled. The cottages do not lie in pebbled ruins across the strand, with hazel and blackthorn growing through the flagstones of the village houses. We have not surrendered Tyneford to guns and tanks and birds and ghosts.

I find I forget more and more nowadays. Nothing very important, as yet. I was talking to somebody just now on the telephone, and as soon as I had replaced the receiver I realised I’d forgotten who it was and what we said. I shall probably remember later when I’m lying in the bath. I’ve forgotten other things too: the names of the birds are no longer on the tip of my tongue and I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t remember where I planted the daffodil bulbs for spring. And yet, as the years wash everything else away, Tyneford remains—a smooth pebble of a memory. Tyneford. Tyneford. As though if I say the name enough, I can go back again. Those summers were long and blue and hot. I remember it all, or think I do. It doesn’t seem long ago to me. I have replayed each moment so often in my mind that I hear my own voice in every part. Now, as I write them, they appear fixed, absolute. On the page we live again, young and unknowing, everything yet to happen.

When I received the letter that brought me to Tyneford, I knew nothing about England, except that I wouldn’t like it. That morning I perched on my usual spot beside the draining board in the kitchen as Hildegard bustled around, flour up to her elbows and one eyebrow snowy white. I laughed and she flicked her tea towel at me, knocking the crust out of my hand and onto the floor.

Gut. Bit less bread and butter won’t do you any harm.”

I scowled and flicked crumbs onto the linoleum. I wished I could be more like my mother, Anna. Worry had made Anna even thinner. Her eyes were huge against her pale skin, so that she looked more than ever like the operatic heroines she played. When she married my father, Anna was already a star—a black-eyed beauty with a voice like cherries and chocolate. She was the real thing; when she opened her mouth and began to sing, time paused just a little and everyone listened, bathing in the sound, unsure if what they heard was real or some perfect imagining. When the trouble began, letters started to arrive from Venice and Paris, from tenors and conductors. There was even one from a double bass. They were all the same: Darling Anna, leave Vienna and come to Paris/London/New York and I shall keep you safe . . . Of course she would not leave without my father. Or me. Or Margot. I would have gone in a flash, packed my ball gowns (if I’d had any) and escaped to sip champagne in the Champs Elysées. But no letters came for me. Not even a note from a second violin. So I ate bread rolls with butter, while Hildegard sewed little pieces of elastic into my waistbands.

“Come.” Hildegard chivvied me off the counter and steered me into the middle of the kitchen, where a large book dusted with flour rested on the table. “You must practise. What shall we make?”

Anna had picked it up at a secondhand bookstore and presented it to me with a flush of pride. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management—a whole kilo of book to teach me how to cook and clean and behave. This was to be my unglamorous fate.

Chewing on my plait, I prodded the tome so that it fell open at the index. “‘General Observations on Quadrupeds . . . Mock Turtle Soup . . . Eel Pie.’”I shuddered. “Here.” I pointed to an entry halfway down the page. “Goose. I should know how to cook goose. I said I knew.”

A month previously, Anna had walked with me to the telegraph offices so that I could wire a “Refugee Advertisement” to the London Times. I’d dragged my feet along the pavement, kicking at the wet piles of blossoms littering the ground.

“I don’t want to go to England. I’ll come to America with you and Papa.”

My parents hoped to escape to New York, where the Metropolitan Opera would help them with a visa, if only Anna would sing.

Anna picked up her pace. “And you will come. But we cannot get an American visa for you now.”

She stopped in the middle of the street and took my face in her hands. “I promise you that before I even take a peek at the shoes in Bergdorf Goodmans, I will see a lawyer about bringing you to New York.”

“Before you see the shoes at Bergdorf’s?”

“I promise.”

Anna had tiny feet and a massive appetite for shoes. Music may have been her first love, but shoes were definitely her second. Her wardrobe was lined with row upon row of dainty high heels in pink, grey, patent leather, calfskin and suede. She made fun of herself to mollify me.

“Please let me at least check your advertisement,” Anna pleaded. Before she’d met my father Anna had sung a season at Covent Garden and her English was almost perfect.

“No.” I snatched the paper away from her. “If my English is so terrible that I can only get a place at a flophouse, then it’s my own fault.”

Anna tried not to laugh. “Darling, do you even know what a flophouse is?”

Of course I had no idea, but I couldn’t tell Anna that. I had visions of refugees like myself, alternately fainting upon overstuffed sofas. Full of indignation at her teasing, I made Anna wait outside the office while I sent the telegram:

VIENNESE JEWESS, 19, seeks position as domestic servant. Speaks fluid English. I will cook your goose. Elise Landau. Vienna 4, Dorotheegasse, 30/5.

Hildegard fixed me with a hard stare. “Elise Rosa Landau, I do not happen to have a goose in my larder this morning, so will you please select something else.”

I was about to choose Parrot Pie, purely to infuriate Hildegard, when Anna and Julian entered the kitchen. He held out a letter. My father, Julian, was a tall man, standing six feet in his socks, with thick black hair with only a splash of grey around his temples, and eyes as blue as a summer sea. My parents proved that beautiful people don’t necessarily produce beautiful children. My mother, with her fragile blond loveliness, and Julian so handsome that he always wore his wire-rimmed spectacles to lessen the effect of those too-blue eyes (I’d tried them on when he was bathing, and discovered that the lenses were so weak as to be almost clear glass). Yet somehow this couple had produced me. For years the great-aunts had cooed, “Ach, just you wait till she blossoms! Twelve years old, mark my words, and she’ll be the spit of her mother.” I could spit, but I was nothing like my mother. Twelve came and went. They held out for sixteen. Still no blossoming. By nineteen even Gabrielle, the most optimistic of the great-aunts, had given up hope. The best they could manage was: “She has her own charm. And character.” Whether this character was good or bad, they never said.

Anna lurked behind Julian, blinking and running a pink tongue-tip across her bottom lip. I stood up straight and concentrated on the letter in Julian’s hand.

“It’s from England,” he said, holding it out to me.

I took it from him and with deliberate slowness, well aware they were all watching me, slid a butter knife under the seal. I drew out a creamy sheet of watermarked paper, unfolded it and smoothed the creases. I read in slow silence. The others bore with me for a minute and then Julian interrupted.

“For God’s sake, Elise. What does it say?”

I fixed him with a glare. I glared a lot back then. He ignored me, and I read aloud.

Dear Fräulein Landau,

Mr. Rivers has instructed me to write to you and tell you that the position of house parlour maid at Tyneford House is yours if you want it. He has agreed to sign the necessary visa application statements, providing that you stay at Tyneford for a minimum of a twelvemonth. If you wish to accept the post, please write or wire by return. On your arrival in London, proceed to the Mayfair Agency in Audley St. W1, where ongoing travel arrangements to Tyneford will be made.

Yours sincerely,

Florence Ellsworth

Housekeeper, Tyneford House

I lowered the letter.

“But twelve months is too long. I’m to be in New York before then, Papa.”

Julian and Anna exchanged a glance, and it was she who answered.

“Darling Bean, I hope you will be in New York in six months. But for now, you must go where it is safe.”

Julian tugged my plait in a gesture of playful affection. “We can’t go to New York unless we know you’re out of harm’s way. The minute we arrive at the Metropolitan we’ll send for you.”

“I suppose it’s too late for me to take singing lessons?”

Anna only smiled. So it was true, then. I was to leave them. Until this moment it had not been real. I had written the telegram, even sent the wire to London, but it had seemed a game. I knew things were bad for us in Vienna. I heard the stories of old women being pulled out of shops by their hair and forced to scrub the pavements. Frau Goldschmidt had been made to scrape dog feces from the gutter with her mink stole. I overheard her confession to Anna; she had sat hunched on the sofa in the parlour, her porcelain cup clattering in her hands, as she confided her ordeal: “The joke is, I never liked that fur. It was a gift from Herman, and I wore it to please him. It was much too hot and it was his mother’s colour, not mine. He never would learn . . . But to spoil it like that . . .” She’d seemed more upset by the waste than the humiliation. Before she left, I saw Anna quietly stuff an arctic rabbit muffler inside her shopping bag.

The evidence of difficult times was all around our apartment. There were scratch marks on the floor in the large sitting room where Anna’s baby grand used to sit. It was worth nearly two thousand schillings—a gift from one of the conductors at La Scala. It had arrived one spring before Margot and I were born, but we all knew that Julian didn’t like having this former lover’s token cluttering up his home. It had been lifted up on a pulley through the dining room windows, the glass of which had to be specially removed—how Margot and I used to wish that we’d glimpsed the great flying piano spectacle. Occasionally, when Julian and Anna had one of their rare disagreements, he’d mutter, “Why can’t you have a box of love letters or a photograph album like any other woman? Why a bloody great grand piano? A man shouldn’t have to stub his toe on his rival’s passion.” Anna, so gentle in nearly all things, was immovable on matters of music. She would fold her arms and stand up straight, reaching all of five feet nothing, and announce, “Unless you wish to spend two thousand schillings on another piano and demolish the dining room again, it stays.” And stay it did, until one day, when I arrived home from running a spurious errand for Anna to discover it missing. There were gouges all along the parquet floor, and from a neighbouring apartment I could hear the painful clatter of a talentless beginner learning to play. Anna had sold her beloved piano to a woman across the hall, for a fraction of its value. In the evenings at six o’clock, we could hear the rattle of endless clumsy scales as our neighbour’s acne-ridden son was forced to practise. I imagined the piano wanting to sing a lament at its ill treatment and pining for Anna’s touch, but crippled into ugliness. Its rich, dark tones once mingled with Anna’s voice like cream into coffee. After the banishment of the piano, at six every evening Anna always had a reason for leaving the apartment—she’d forgotten to buy potatoes (though the larder was packed with them), there was a letter to post, she’d promised to dress Frau Finkelstein’s corns.

Despite the vanished piano, the spoiled furs, the pictures missing from the walls, Margot’s expulsion from the conservatoire on racial grounds and the slow disappearance of all the younger maids, so that only old Hildegard remained, until this moment I had never really thought that I would have to leave Vienna. I loved the city. She was as much a part of my family as Anna or great-aunts Gretta, Gerda and Gabrielle. It was true, strange things kept happening, but at age nineteen nothing really terrible had ever happened to me before and, blessed with the outlook of the soul-deep optimist, I had truly believed that all would be well. Standing in the kitchen as I looked up into Julian’s face and met his sad half smile, I knew for the first time in my life that everything was not going to be all right, that things would not turn out for the best. I must leave Austria and Anna and the apartment on Dorotheegasse with its tall sash windows looking out onto the poplars that glowed pink fire as the sun crept up behind them and the grocer’s boy who came every Tuesday yelling “Eis! Eis!” And the damask curtains in my bedroom that I never closed so I could see the yellow glow from the streetlamps and the twin lights from the tramcars below. I must leave the crimson tulips in the park in April, and the whirling white dresses at the Opera Ball, and the gloves clapping as Anna sang and Julian wiped away proud tears with his embroidered handkerchief, and midnight ice cream on the balcony on August nights, and Margot and I sunbathing on striped deckchairs in the park as we listened to trumpets on the bandstand, and Margot burning supper, and Robert laughing and saying it doesn’t matter and us eating apples and toasted cheese instead, and Anna showing me how to put on silk stockings without tearing them by wearing kid gloves, and . . . and . . .

“And sit, drink some water.”

Anna thrust a glass in front of me while Julian slid a wooden chair behind me. Even Hildegard looked rattled.

“You have to go,” said Anna.

“I know,” I said, realising as I did so that my luxuriant and prolonged childhood was at an end. I stared at Anna with a shivering sense of time pivoting up and down like a seesaw. I memorised every detail: the tiny crease in the centre of her forehead that appeared when she was worried; Julian beside her, his hand resting on her shoulder; the grey silk of her blouse. The blue tiles behind the sink. Hildegard wringing the dishcloth.

That Elise, the girl I was then, would declare me old, but she is wrong. I am still she. I am still standing in the kitchen holding the letter, watching the others—and waiting—and knowing that everything must change.

Chapter Two

In the Bathtub, Singing

Memories do not exist along a timeline. In my mind everything happens at once. Anna kisses me good night and tucks me into my high-sided cot, while my hair is brushed for Margot’s wedding, which now takes place on the lawn at Tyneford, my feet bare upon the grass. I am in Vienna as I wait for their letters to arrive in Dorset. The chronology laid out upon these pages is not without effort.

I am young in my dreams. The face in the mirror always surprises me. I observe the smart grey hair, nicely set, of course, and the tiredness beneath the eyes that never goes away. I know that it is my face, and yet the next time I glance in the mirror I am surprised all over again. Oh, I think, I forgot that this is me. In those blissful days living in the bel-étage, I was the baby of the family. They all indulged me, Margot, Julian and Anna most of all. I was their pet, their liebling, to be cosseted and adored. I didn’t have remarkable gifts like the rest of them. I couldn’t sing. I could play the piano and viola a little but nothing like Margot, who had inherited all our mother’s talent. Her husband, Robert, had fallen in love before he had even spoken to her, when he listened to her perform viola in Schumann’s ‘Fairytale Pictures.’ He said that her music painted lightning storms, wheat fields rippling in the rain and girls with sea blue hair. He said he’d never seen through someone else’s eyes before. Margot decided to love him back and they were married within six weeks. It was all quite sickening and I should have been unbearably jealous if it hadn’t been for the fact that Robert had no sense of humour. He never once laughed at any of my jokes—not even the one about the rabbi and the dining room chair and the walnut—so clearly he was deficient. The possibility of a man ever being besotted with my musical gifts was highly improbable, but I did need him to laugh.

I entertained the idea of becoming a writer like Julian, but unlike him I’d never written anything other than a list of boys I fancied. Once, watching Hildegard stuff seasoned sausage meat into cabbage leaves with her thick red fingers, I’d decided that this would be a fine subject for a poem. But I’d not progressed any further than this insight. I was plump while the others were slender. I had thick ankles, and they were fine boned and high cheeked, and the only beauty I’d inherited was Julian’s black hair, which hung in a python plait all the way down to my knickers. But they loved me anyway. Anna indulged my babyish ways, and I was allowed to sulk and storm off to my room and sob over fairy stories that I was far too old for. My never-ending childhood made Anna feel young. With a girl-child like me she did not admit her forty-five years, even to herself.

All that changed with the letter. I must go off into the world alone, and I must finally grow up. The others treated me just as before, but there was self-consciousness in their actions, as if they knew I was sick but were being meticulous in giving nothing away in their behaviour. Anna continued to smile benevolently upon my sullen moods and slip me the fattest slice of cake and run my bath with her best lavender-scented salts. Margot picked fights and borrowed books without asking, but I knew it was just for show. Her heart wasn’t in the rowing, and she took books she knew I’d already read. Only Hildegard was different. She stopped chiding me, and even when it was probably most urgent, she no longer pressed Mrs. Beeton upon me. She called me “Fräulein Elise,” when I’d been simple “Elise” or “pain of my existence” since I was two. This sudden formality was not out of respect at some newfound dignity on my part. It was pity. I suspected Hildegard wanted to give me every mark of rank and social status during those last weeks, knowing how I must feel the humiliation in the months to come, but I wished she would call me Elise, box my ears and threaten to pour salt on my supper once more. I left biscuit crumbs on my nightstand in clear contravention of her no-biscuits-in-the-bedroom policy, but she said nothing, only gave me a tiny curtsy (how I crawled inside) and retired into her kitchen with a wounded expression.

The days slid by. I felt them pass faster and faster like painted horses on a carousel. I willed time to slow, concentrating on the tick-tick of the hall clock, trying to draw out the silence between the relentless beats of the second hand. Of course it did not work. My visa arrived in the post. The clock ticked. Anna took me to receive my passport. Tick. Julian went to another office to pay my departure tax and on his return disappeared into his study without a word and with the burgundy decanter. Tick. I packed my travel trunks with wads of silk stockings, while Hildegard stitched hidden pockets into all of my dresses to secrete forbidden valuables and sewed fine gold chains along the seams. Anna and Margot accompanied me on coffee-drinking excursions to the aunts, so we could eat honey cakes and say good-bye and we’ll meet again soon when-all-this-is-over-whenever-that-will-be. Tick. I tried to stay awake all night so that morning would come slower and I would have more precious moments in Vienna. I fell asleep. Tick-tick-tick and another day gone. I took the pictures down from my bedroom wall and slid a knife under the mounting paper, slipping into the lid of my trunk the print of the Belvedere Palace, the signed programs from the Opera Ball and my photographs of Margot’s wedding: me in my muslin dress with the leaf embroidery, Julian in white tie and tails, and Anna in shapeless black so she wouldn’t upstage the bride and still looking prettier than any of us. Tick. My bags lay in the hall. Tick-tick. My last night in Vienna. The hall clock chimed: six o’clock and time to dress for the party.

Rather than going to my bedroom, I drifted into Julian’s study. He was at his desk scribbling away, pen clasped in his left hand. I didn’t know what he was writing; no one in Austria would publish his novels anymore. I wondered if he would write his next novel in American.

“Papa?”

“Yes, Bean.”

“Promise you will send for me the minute you arrive.”

Julian stopped writing and drew back his chair. He pulled me onto his lap, as though I was nine rather than nineteen, and clutched me to him, burying his face in my hair. I could smell the clean scent of his shaving soap and the cigar smoke that always lingered on his skin. As I rested my chin on his shoulder, I saw that the burgundy decanter was on the desk, empty once again.

“I won’t forget you, Bean,” he said, his voice muffled by the tangle of my hair. He clutched me so tightly that my ribs creaked and then, with a small sigh, he released me. “I need you to do something for me, my darling.”

I slid off his lap and watched as he crossed to the corner of the room where a viola case rested, propped against the far wall. He picked it up and set it down on the desk, opening it with a click.

“You remember this viola?”

“Yes, of course.”

I had taken my first music lessons upon this rosewood viola, learning to play before Margot. She took lessons upon the grand piano in the drawing room while I stood in this room (a treat to encourage me to practise) and the viola squealed and scraped. I even enjoyed playing, until the day Margot stole into Julian’s study and picked it up. She drew the bow across the strings and it trembled into life. The rosewood sang for the first time, music rippling from the strings as effortlessly as the wind skimming the Danube. We all drew in to listen, hearing the viola like a siren’s song: Anna clutching Julian’s arm, eyes wet and bright, Hildegard dabbing her eyes with her duster and me lurking in the doorway, awed by my sister and so jealous I felt sick. In a month all the best music masters in Vienna were summoned to teach my sister. I never played again.

“I want you to take it to England with you,” said Julian.

“But I don’t play anymore. And anyway, it’s Margot’s.”

Julian shook his head. “Margot hasn’t used this old thing for years. And besides, it can’t be played.” He smiled at me. “Try.”

I was about to refuse, but there was something odd in his expression, so I picked up the instrument. It felt heavy in my hands, a curious weight in the body. Watching my father, I placed it under my chin and, picking up the bow, drew it slowly across the strings. The sound was muffled and strange, as though I had attached a mute beneath the bridge. I lowered the viola and stared at Julian; a smile twitched upon his lips.

“What’s inside it, Papa?”

“A novel. Well, my novel.”

I peered inside the f-holes carved into the body of the instrument and realised that it was stuffed full of yellow paper.

“How did you manage to get all those pages in there?”

Julian’s smile spread into a grin. “I went to a string maker. He steamed off the front, I placed the novel inside and he glued it shut.”

He spoke with pride, pleased to confide his secret, and then his face became serious once again.

“I want you to take it to England for safekeeping.”

Julian always wrote in duplicate, writing out his work on carbon paper in his tiny curling hand, so that a shadow novel appeared upon the pages underneath. The top layer on watermarked white paper was sent to his publisher, while the carbon copy on flimsy yellow tissue remained locked in his desk drawer. Julian was terrified of losing work and the mahogany desk held a word hoard. He’d never permitted a copy to leave his study before.

“I’ll take the manuscript with me to New York. But I want you to keep this copy in England. Just in case.”

“All right. But I’ll give it back to you in New York and you can lock it inside your desk again.”

The hall clock chimed the half hour.

“You must go and dress, little one,” said Julian, planting a kiss on my forehead. “The guests will be arriving soon.”

It was the first night of Passover and Anna had dictated that it was to be a celebration, a party with champagne and dancing like there used to be before the bad times. Crying was absolutely forbidden. Margot came around early to dress and we sat in our dressing gowns in Anna’s large bathroom, faces flushed with steam. Anna filled the tub with rose petals and propped the dining room candlesticks beside the washbasin mirror, like she did on the evening of the Opera Ball. She lay back in the tub, her hair knotted on the top of her head, fingers trailing patterns in the water. “Ring the bell, Margot. Ask Hilde to bring a bottle of the Laurent-Perrier and three glasses.”

Margot did as she was bidden, and soon we sat sipping champagne, each pretending to be cheerful for the benefit of the others. I took a gulp and felt the tears burn in my throat. No crying, I told myself and swallowed, the bubbles making me choke.

“Be careful there,” said Anna with a giggle, too high pitched, striking a note of false gaiety.

I wondered how many bottles of wine or champagne were left. I knew Julian had sold the good ones. Anything expensive or valuable was liable to be confiscated; better to sell it first. Margot fanned herself with a magazine and, casting it aside, marched to the window, opening the sash to let in a cool breath of night air. I watched the steam trickle outside and the gauze curtain flutter.

“So, tell me about the department in California,” said Anna, lying back and closing her eyes.

Margot flopped into a wicker rocking chair and unfastened her robe to reveal a white lace corset and matching knickers. I wondered what Robert thought of such exciting underwear and was instantly filled with envy. No one had ever shown the slightest interest in seeing me in my underthings. Robert could be quite dashing in the right sort of lighting, although he always got rather too animated when talking about his star projects at the university. I had once grievously offended him when I’d introduced him at a party as “my brother-in-law the astrologer” rather than “the astronomer.” He turned to me with a haughty glare, asking, “Do I wear a blue headscarf and dangling earrings or ask you to cross my palm with silver before I tell you that, with Venus in retrograde, I see a handsome stranger in your future?” “Oh no, but I wish you would!” I replied, and as a consequence he’d never really forgiven me, which was a pity, because before that he used to let me take puffs on his cigar. “The university at Berkeley is supposed to be very good,” Margot was saying. “They’re full of kind things to say about Robert. They’re so pleased he’s joining them and so on.”

“And you? Will you play?” said Anna.

Margot and Anna were the same; they were caged birds if they couldn’t have music. Margot lit a cigarette and I saw her hand tremble, ever such a little.

“I shall look for a quartet.”

“Gut. Gut.” Anna nodded, satisfied.

I took another gulp of champagne and stared at my mother and sister. They would make friends wherever they ended up. In any city in the world they could arrive, seek out the nearest cluster of musicians and, for as long as the sonata, symphony or minuet lasted, they were at home.

I watched my sister, long limbed and with golden hair, like Anna’s, falling in damp curls on her bare shoulders. She sprawled in the wicker chair, robe dishevelled, sipping champagne and puffing on her cigarette with an air of studied decadence. A film of perspiration clung to her skin and she smiled at me with dreamy eyes.

“Here, Elsie, have a puff.” She held the cigarette out to me, letting it dangle between her fingers.

I knocked her hand away. “Don’t call me that.”

I hated being called Elsie. It was an old woman’s name. Margot laughed, a rich tinkling sound, and at that moment I hated her too and was glad I was going far, far away. I didn’t care if I never saw her again. I retreated to the window, unable to breathe through all the mist. Despite the heat I clutched my robe around me, not wanting to take it off in front of them and display my big white knickers and schoolgirl brassiere or the small roll of baby fat oozing around my middle.

Sensing a round of bickering about to start between Margot and me, Anna did the one thing she could to make us stop. She began to sing. Later that night Anna performed before all the assembled guests, while the garnet choker around her neck trembled like drops of blood, but it is this moment I remember. When I think of Anna, I see her lying naked in the bathtub, singing. The sound filled the small room, thicker than the steam, and the water in the bath began to vibrate. I felt her voice rather than heard it. Anna’s rich mezzo tones were inside me. Instead of an aria, she sang the melody to “Für Elise”; a song without words, a song for me.

I leaned against the window frame, feeling the cool air against my back, the notes falling on my skin like rain. Margot’s glass sagged to the ground unheeded, the champagne trickling onto the floor. I saw that the door was ajar and Julian lingered in the doorway, watching the three of us and listening. He disobeyed Anna’s rule for the night. He was crying.

Chapter Three

An Eggcup of Salt Water

The guests arrived for the party. A manservant had been hired for the evening, and he stood in the hallway, collecting coats from the gentlemen and assisting the ladies with their hats and furs. Robert was the first to arrive; he came before eight and I fixed him with a stare to display my disapproval. According to Anna, extreme punctuality was a terrible habit in a guest, although, to my irritation, when I complained about Robert, she said that it was acceptable in family or lovers. Some guests didn’t arrive at all. Anna had issued thirty invitations the week before. But people had started to disappear, and those who remained decided it was best not to draw attention to oneself, to live quietly and not make eye contact in the street. We understood that some would prefer not to come to a Passover soirée at the home of a famous Jewish singer and her avant-garde novelist husband. Anna and Julian said nothing about the missing guests. The table was silently reset.

We all gathered in the drawing room. Those who had chosen to attend the party had apparently decided by unspoken accord to dazzle in their finest. If coming to the Landau party was dangerous, then they may as well be resplendent. The men were dashing in their white tie and tails. The ladies wore dark furs or dull raincoats down to the floor, but when they removed their chrysalis coats we saw that beneath them they sparkled like tropical butterflies. Margot’s dress was shot silk, indigo blue as a summer’s night and studded with silver embroidered stars, which twinkled as she moved. Even fat Frau Finkelstein wore a plum-coloured gown, her white, doughy arms puckered by tight gauze sleeves, her grey hair plaited into a crown and studded with cherry blossoms. Lily Roth conjured a feathered fascinator from her bag like a magician and fastened it in her hair, so she resembled a bird of paradise. Every lady wore her jewels, and all of them at once. If in the past seeming garish or extravagant or petty bourgeois had troubled us, now, as we felt everything sliding away into blackness, we wondered how we could have worried about such things. Tonight was for pleasure. Tomorrow we would have to sell our jewels—Grandmama’s spiderweb diamond brooch, the gold bracelet studded with rubies and sapphires that the children had teethed upon, the platinum cuff links given to Herman when he made partner at the bank—so tonight we would wear them all and shine beneath the moon.

Julian sipped burgundy and listened to Herr Finkelstein’s stories, smiling easily in all the right places. I’d heard them all—the time he met Baron Rothschild at a concert, and the baron, mistaking him for someone else, had tipped his head and the baroness her sherry glass: “And who on earth would have dreamed there was a smart fellow as bald and round as me? I must find my double and shake his hand.” I rolled my eyes, bored from a distance. Julian saw me and gestured for me to join them; I shook my head and edged away.

I knew this was my last party as a guest. I studied the manservant in his black tie, and impassive face, and tried to imagine myself as one of them, refreshing glasses and pretending not to hear conversation. Pity I’d never said anything worth eavesdropping upon when I’d had the chance. From my vantage point, I saw Margot and Robert whispering in the corner, hand in hand. I had it on good authority that flirting with one’s spouse in public was the depth of ill manners (with someone else’s husband it was perfectly fine, of course), but once again Anna informed me that within the first year of marriage it was quite acceptable. I hoped Margot had written their first anniversary in her diary along with a note to “stop flirting with Robert.” She would be in America by then, and with something like regret I realised I would not be able to tell her to behave. I must write and remind her. Although, I mused, it was possible Americans had different rules, and I wondered if I ought to point this out to her. At that moment, I was feeling charitable toward my sister. While at most parties I watched as the men swarmed around Margot and Anna, tonight I had caught little Jan Tibor surreptitiously glancing at my bosom, and I felt every bit as sophisticated as the others. In the darkness of the hall I puffed out my chest and fluttered my eyelashes, imagining myself irresistible, a dark-haired Marlene Dietrich.

“Darling, don’t do that,” said Anna, appearing beside me. “The seams might pop.”

I sighed and deflated. My pink sheath dress had once belonged to Anna, and although Hildegard had let out the material as much as she could, it still pinched.

“It looks lovely on you,” said Anna, suddenly conscious that she may have wounded my feelings. “You must take it with you.”

I snorted. “For washing dishes in? Or for dusting?”

Anna changed the subject. “Do you want to ring the bell for dinner?”

The bell was a tiny silver ornament, once belonging to my grandmother, and it tinkled a C sharp, according to Margot, who had perfect pitch. As a child, it had been a great treat to put on my party frock, stay up late and ring the bell for dinner. I would stand beside the dining room door, solemnly allowing myself to be kissed good night by the guests as they filed in for dinner. Tonight as I rang the bell, I saw all those parties flickering before me, and an endless train of people walking past me, like a circular frieze going around and around the room, never stopping. They chattered loudly, faces pink with alcohol, all obeying Anna’s dictate of gaiety.

My family was not religious in the slightest. When we were children, Anna wanted Margot and me to understand a little of our heritage and at bedtime told us stories from the Torah alongside tales of “Peter and the Wolf” and “Mozart and Constanze.” In Anna’s hands, Eve was imbued with the glamour of Greta Garbo, and we pictured her lounging in the Garden of Eden, a snake draped tantalisingly around her neck, a besotted Adam (played by Clark Gable) kneeling at her feet. The Bible stories had the wild and unlikely plots of operas, and Margot and I devoured them with enthusiasm, mingling the genres seamlessly in our imaginations. Eve tempted Adam with Carmen’s arias and the voice of God sounded very much like the Barber of Seville. If anyone had asked Anna to choose between God and music there would have been no contest, and I suspected that Julian was an atheist. We never went to the handsome brick synagogue on Leopoldstadt; we ate schnitzel in nonkosher restaurants, celebrated Christmas rather than Chanukah and were proud to be among the new class of bourgeois Austrians. We were Viennese Jews but, up till now, the Viennese part always came first. Even this year, when Anna decided we would celebrate Passover, it had to be a party with Margot in her wedding sapphires and me wearing Anna’s pearls.

The long dining table was covered with a white monogrammed cloth, the plates were gold-edged Meissen and Hildegard had polished the remaining family silver to a gleam. Candles flickered on every surface, a black rose and narcissus posy (rose for love, black for sorrow and narcissus for hope) rested on each lady’s side plate and a silver yarmulke lay on each gentleman’s. Anna insisted that the large electric lamp be left off and candles provide the only light. I knew that it was only partly for the atmosphere of enchantment that candle glow casts, and more practically to hide the gaps on the dining room walls where the good paintings used to hang. The family portraits remained: the one of me aged eleven in my flimsy muslin dress, hair close-cropped, and the images of the sour-faced, thin-lipped great-grandparents with their lace caps, as well as Great-great-aunt Sophie oddly pictured among green fields and a wide blue sky—Sophie had been agoraphobic, infamously refusing to leave her rancid apartment for forty years, but the portrait lied, recasting her as some sort of nature-loving cloud spotter. My favourite was the painting of Anna as Verdi’s Violetta in the moments before her death, barefoot and clad in a translucent nightgown (which had fascinated and outraged the critics in equal measure), her eyes beseeching you wherever you went. I used to hide beneath the dining room table to escape her gaze, but when I emerged after an hour or more, she was always waiting, reproaching me. The other paintings had gone, but they left reminders—the sun-bleached wallpaper marked with rectangular stains. I shrugged—it shouldn’t matter now whether the paintings were here, since I would not see them. But when leaving home one always likes to think of it as it ought to be, and as it was before, perfect and unchanging. Now when I think of our apartment, I restore each picture to its proper place: Violetta opposite the painting of breakfast on the balcony (purchased by Julian as a present for Anna on their honeymoon). I have to remind myself that the pictures had vanished before that last night, and then, with a blink, the walls are empty once again.

The chairs scraped on the parquet floor as the men helped the ladies into their places, gowns catching on chair legs and under feet, so that the hum of chatter rippled with apologies. We all peered around the table with interest, hoping that ours would be the amusing end of the party and the others did not have better dinner companions. Herr Finkelstein adjusted his yarmulke so it neatly covered the bald disk on his head. The men alternated between the ladies, stark in their black and white, ensuring that none of the women’s rainbow dresses clashed beside one another. Anna and Julian sat at opposite heads of the table. They exchanged a look and Anna rang the silver bell once more. Instantly the diners fell silent and Julian rose to his feet.

“Welcome, my friends. This night is indeed different from all other nights. In the morning my younger daughter, Elise, leaves for England. And in another few weeks, Margot and her husband, Robert, depart for America.”

The guests smiled at Margot and then at me, with envy or pity I could not tell. Julian held up his hand and the hum of conversation dulled once again. He was pale, and even in the half-light I could see beads of perspiration on his brow.

“But the truth is, my friends, we already live in exile. We are no longer citizens in our own country. And it is better to be exiled among strangers than at home.”

Abruptly he sat down and wiped his forehead with his napkin.

“Darling?” said Anna from the other end of the long table, trying to keep the note of anxiety from her voice.

Julian stared at her for a second and then, recollecting himself, stood up once more and opened the Haggadah. It was strange—until this year we had always hurried through the Passover Seder. It had become a kind of game, seeing how fast we could race to the end, reading quickly, skipping passages so that we could reach Hildegard’s dinner in record time, preferably before she was even ready to serve it, causing her to puff and grumble. This night we paused and, by tacit agreement, read every word. Perhaps the God-fearing among us believed in the prayers and hoped that, due to their diligence, He would take pity. I did not believe this, but as I listened to stout Herr Finkelstein singing the Hebrew, double chins trembling with fervour, I was torn between scorn at his religious faith (I was Julian’s daughter, after all) and a sense of congruity. His words licked around me in the darkness, and in my mind’s eye I saw them shine like the lights of home. I pictured Anna’s Moses, a hero of the big screen (James Stewart, perhaps) leading the Jews into a rose-red dessert and then something older, a glimpse of a story I had always known. As a modern girl, I fumbled with my butter knife, embarrassed by Herr Finkelstein’s chanting. He gazed heavenward, oblivious to the dribble of schmaltz wobbling at the side of his wet lips, and I wanted him to stop, never to stop.

We murmured the blessings over the cups of wine, and the youngest, Jan Tibor, started the ritual of the four questions: “Why is tonight different from all other nights? Why tonight do we eat only matzos?”

Frau Goldschmidt pushed her reading glasses up her nose and recited the response: “Matzo is used during Passover as a symbol of the unleavened bread that the Jews carried with them when they escaped out of Egypt, with no time for their uncooked bread to rise.”

Margot snorted. “A Jewish household with empty cupboards? Not even a loaf of bread? Seems unlikely to me.”

I kicked her under the table, hard enough to bruise her shin, and I felt a small pulse of satisfaction as she winced.

“Elise. The next question,” said Julian, in his no-nonsense voice. He held up a sprig of parsley and an eggcup brimming with salt water.

I read from the worn book in my lap: “Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only maror, bitter herbs?”

Julian placed his book facedown on the table and looked at me as though I had really asked him a question to which I wished to know the answer. “Bitter herbs remind us of the pain of the Jewish slaves, and the petty miseries of our own existence. But they are also a symbol of hope and of better things to come.”

He did not glance at the Haggadah, and as he continued I realised that the words were his. “A man who has experienced great sorrow, and then has known its end, wakes each morning feeling the pleasure of sunrise.”

He took a sip of water and dabbed his mouth. “Margot. The next.”

She stared at him and then glanced down to her book. “Why is it that on all other nights we don’t dip our herbs at all, but on this night we dip them twice?”

Julian dipped a sprig of parsley in the pot of sweet charoset and leaned across the table to hand it to me. I popped it into my mouth and swallowed the sticky mixture of apples, cinnamon and wine. He bathed a second piece of parsley in the salt water and gave it to me, watching as I ate. My mouth stung with salt, and I tasted tears and long journeys across the sea.

Chapter Four

Enough Clouds for a Spectacular Sunset

After dinner Margot and I stole onto the balcony. The rich beef stew had been one of Hildegard’s best; I wanted to cram myself with the taste of home while I still could. Margot tossed a few cushions onto the floor, and we sat side by side, looking at the shaking leaves on the tops of the poplar trees.

“You will write, Bean,” she said.

“Well, I shall try. But I expect to be rather busy with bridge parties, lawn picnics and such.”

To my surprise, Margot clutched my hand. “You must write, Elise. No joking.”

“Fine. But my handwriting’s terrible and I don’t plan on improving it.”

“That’s all right. It will give Robert something else to complain about. And you know how happy that makes him.”

My litany of faults had provided Robert with another source of interest, and consequently I felt he ought to show a little more gratitude toward me. The balcony doors creaked and Anna stepped out. Margot and I shuffled along to make room for her on our bed of cushions. I kicked off my shoes, which were starting to pinch, and wiggled my toes in the cool night air. Anna had painted my toenails scarlet, and I thought they looked very fetching—it seemed a shame to wear shoes at all.

“You are to take the pearls with you, Elise. Hildegard will sew them into the hem of your dress tonight.”

“No, Mama, they’re yours. I have the gold chains if I need money.”

I reached for Anna’s hand, wishing that she would be quiet. Lights glinted in the apartments across the street, and where the curtains were not drawn we watched a marionette show of silhouettes perform rituals of daily life: maids drew baths or cleared away supper trays, an elderly lady took three tries to climb into her raised bed, a dog sat in a chair by an open window and a man all alone and naked except for his hat paced to and fro, hands clasped behind his back. This vantage point had been my and Margot’s favourite for many years, and we had glimpsed countless dramas play out across the street. When we were children we would squabble and scratch at one another’s faces, but dusk produced an inevitable truce, and we would creep out onto the balcony and sit beside one another in companionable silence and watch the show. It seemed almost inconceivable that it could continue without me. I looked down at my beautiful red-painted toes for comfort.

“The pearls are yours,” said Anna. “I gave the sapphires to Margot as a wedding gift and it is right that you should have the pearls.”

“Stop it,” I snapped. “Give them to me in New York.”

Anna fiddled with the hem of her gown and said nothing.

“Why do you want me to have them now?” I asked. “You’re not going to forget to send for me, are you? How can you forget me? You promised, Anna. You promised.”

“Darling! Calm, please.” She laughed at my outburst. “Of course I won’t forget you. Of all the silliest things.”

“Elise, you’re not easily forgotten,” said Margot. “You’re her daughter, not a pair of gloves.”

I folded my arms across my chest, shivering in the crisp night air, and struggled against the urge to cry. My family did not understand. They might be leaving, but they had each other. Only I was alone. I fretted that they would forget about me or, worse, discover that they liked it better without me.

From my position on the cushions I edged closer to Margot, greedy for her warmth.

“Oh, look,” she said, pointing at a balcony on the top floor, where a prim, uniformed maid held a curly-haired poodle over the edge of the parapet so it could tinkle. A yellow arc rained down on the pavement below.

Anna hissed her disapproval. “Ach, have you ever seen such laziness!”

“I think it’s highly original, and as such I applaud it,” I said.

“God help the family you end up with,” said Margot.

My retort was cut short, as Julian called us to come inside: “Darlings, the photographer is here.”

I can’t help wondering if perhaps I remember that last night so vividly because of the photograph. We all gathered in the drawing room, the tables pushed back against the wall, chairs laid out in hig-gledy rows. Lily Roth used her feather fascinator as a pointer to organise us into position and barked at the gentlemen to extinguish their cigars and cigarettes. Margot and I allowed ourselves to be directed to low stools near Julian and Anna. I still wasn’t wearing any shoes and hid my bare feet under my long dress. Margot and I huddled conspiratorially, giggling as the elderly ladies fussed and fidgeted and insisted that they be seated with their husbands or sons or nearer the back where their wobbling jowls would be less on display.

Photographs are so strange; they are always in the present tense, everyone captured in a moment that will never come again. We take them for posterity, and as the shutter blinks we think of the future versions of ourselves, looking back at this event. The photograph I have of the party is one snapped while we were waiting for the official picture to be taken. The flash exploded in a burst of light and caught us unawares. Margot and I sit whispering together, paying scant attention to the others, perhaps laughing at Lily conducting the crowd with her feather or the unnoticed gravy stain on Herr Finkelstein’s white shirt. I only realised when I looked at the picture how alike Margot and I were. Her hair is pale, and mine dark, but our eyes are the same, and except for a slight babyish roundness to my face, we are mirror sisters.

Jan Tibor watches us from the edge of the crowd. Anna and Julian are side by side, close and yet not quite touching, both watching some forgotten drama that is taking place outside of the frame. Anna wears her arctic fox jacket fastened with a diamond clasp, snow-white fur brushing her throat, silk gown spilling out from underneath. Her brown eyes are uneasy and her brow slightly furrowed. Julian leans toward her, handsome, unsmiling. His legs are crossed, and his left trouser has ridden up, showing a flash of unseemly sock, which I remember as virulent yellow. He disliked wearing black tie or tails, so always sported some small rebellion. By some trick of the photographer, only Anna and Julian are in sharp focus; the rest of us cluster around them, mortals at the feet of the white queen and her black-haired, cross-gartered prince.

I couldn’t sleep. I knew the moment I closed my eyes it would be morning and time to leave. I kicked off the bedcovers, climbed out of bed and crept into the silent hall. A pair of stray brandy glasses lay discarded on the windowsill at the far end, catching the light as dawn sneaked into the east, peeking between the gaps in the terraces. “Busy old fool, go back to bed,” I grumbled at the sun and padded into the kitchen, closing the door. Hildegard’s kitchen faced west, so it was comfortingly dark and nighttime still. It was a cramped room, built without regard to the convenience of the chef, but Hildegard was a sorceress when it came to cooking, and an endless stream of delicacies flowed from her lair. She had cleaned away the debris from the party, the wooden tops were scrubbed and leftovers carefully removed to the pantry. I decided upon a midnight—or rather five in the morning—snack and slipped into the larder.

On the top shelf, a large bowl of creamy custard rested under a glass dome, and beside it lay a tray of herbed potatoes. I decided that these would do very well and, unfolding the creaking steps, climbed up to retrieve my prize. I carried them back to the kitchen table and settled down with a large spoon. I was less than halfway through the custard, and hadn’t even begun upon the potatoes, when the door creaked open and Hildegard appeared in her flannel nightie and cap. She drew up a chair and sat with me as I licked the back of the spoon. She did not chide me for my nocturnal raid (I’d had my ears boxed for less) and instead seemed to consider that this was the last time she’d need to worry about her pigtailed thief.

She surveyed me from under hooded lids. “I’ve some marzipan. You want it on toast?”

I nodded and pushed the custard bowl aside. She heaved herself to her feet, unwrapped a loaf of bread, sawed off a thin slice and lit the grill.

“You’re to take Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management with you,” she said, with her back to me. “I’ve circled my favourite passages.”

“But it’s huge.”

“The English are different from us. Mrs. Beeton will help you.”

I knew that this was not an argument I could win. I might refuse to take the book. I might refuse to pack it. I might even padlock my trunk. But I knew, with the same certainty I had that it would take two bowls of creamy custard before I was sick, that when I opened my trunk in London, the red-bound Mrs. Beeton would be nestled among my knickers.

“Fine. I’ll take it.”

There was a thud and the book landed on the table next to the bowl. I toyed with the idea of dropping yellow cream on it, but the truth was I knew it would take more than this to defeat Hildegard. I was too tired to read, but as I turned the pages a musty stench seeped into the kitchen. I suspected this was also the smell of old English houses. Sandwiched between two leaves was a thin piece of worn paper. I pulled it out and read the English inscription: To Mrs. Roberts and her Sweetheart and House-band from a sincere and hearty well-wisher. May there be just sufficient clouds in one’s life to make a spectacular sunset.

I closed the book in disgust, hiding the paper. Hildegard was right: the English were different. On the occasion of a wedding, they wished one another unhappiness. And to talk about sunsets at the beginning of a marriage—it was all very distasteful. I was certain that such behaviour broke all sorts of rules of etiquette. Hildegard slapped in front of me a plate of toast with melting butter, thin slivers of marzipan sliced on top. I took a large bite and closed my eyes in contentment. Anna and Julian were asleep across the hall; the water pipes whined and groaned. I wanted to stay here forever, eating toast while my parents slept.

I have thought about that last night a hundred, no, a thousand times since, but I have never written it down before. And I find I like the permanence of the words upon the page. Julian and Anna are cradled safely in my words, caught up in paper dreams. I could leave memory aside and slide into fiction. There is nothing to prevent me from writing them a whole other story, the one I wished for them. But I don’t and I steal away, returning to the clamour of the present, the gardener asking about the geraniums, the postman arriving with a package, and I leave my parents asleep on a cool spring morning on Dorotheegasse long ago.

Chapter Five

The Wrong Door

London was cold. A rancid layer of coal fog encased the whole of the city, bathing it in yellow dark; a perpetual half-light, neither dawn nor dusk. To my eyes, the people were grey and covered in a film of smog. They hurried everywhere, eyes downcast in the streets, never pausing to take in the beauty of a morning like they did in Vienna, but scurrying about their business, eager to escape into their houses.

I don’t recall much about the hostel where I spent my first night in England, except that it was in Great Portland Street, beside the synagogue, and filled with frightened girls from Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne. We’d all been terrified into speaking only English, but since we could not, we were silent. The mute girls watched me as I darted from the hallway to the shared toilet, eyes following me like Anna’s portrait at home. The hostel was funded by some Jewish philanthropists and provided free bed and board to girls newly arrived from Europe. We were permitted to take no valuables or money with us when we left, so we arrived on the doorstep of the hostel with nothing but our clothes and bags stuffed with books and letters and stockings—a lifetime of mementos of things left behind. The landlady insisted that my trunk be locked in a store on the ground floor, complaining that it was far too heavy to lug up to the top of the house. At least, that was what I’d understood when she’d surveyed my battered trunk and suitcases and hissed words at me in a torrent as harsh and baffling as the squawk of an angry goose. I didn’t have the English to argue, so I clasped my satchel and the viola case and shuffled up the stairs to bed.

What People are saying about this

Kathleen Grissom
"The House at Tyneford is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel that takes you back in time to the manor homes, aristocracy and domestic servants of England. In this setting, Natasha Solomons gives us a courageous heroine whose incredible love story will keep you in suspense until the final page."
Kristin Hannah
"Natasha Solomons has written a lovely, atmospheric novel full of charming characters and good, old fashioned storytelling. Fans of Downton Abbey and Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden will absolutely adore The House at Tyneford."
Katherine Howe
"The House at Tyneford is an exquisite tale of love, family, suspense, and survival. Capturing with astonishing detail and realism a vanished world of desire and hope trapped beneath rigid class convention, Natasha Solomons's stunning new novel tells the story of Elise Landau, a Jewish Austrian teenager from a family of artists, who is forced to flee her home in Vienna carrying only a guide to household management and her father's last novel, hidden on pages stuffed inside a viola. Elise hides as a parlor maid in a fine English country estate, but soon she discovers that passion can be found in the most unexpected places. Already a bestseller in Britain, American readers will thrill to The House at Tyneford."
From the Publisher
"Natasha Solomons has written a lovely, atmospheric novel full of charming characters and good, old fashioned storytelling.  Fans of Downton Abbey and Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden will absolutely adore The House at Tyneford."—Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author of Fly Away

"The House at Tyneford is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel that takes you back in time to the manor homes, aristocracy and domestic servants of England. In this setting, Natasha Solomons gives us a courageous heroine whose incredible love story will keep you in suspense until the final page."—Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House
 
The House at Tyneford is an exquisite tale of love, family, suspense, and survival. Capturing with astonishing detail and realism a vanished world of desire and hope trapped beneath rigid class convention, Natasha Solomons's stunning new novel tells the story of Elise Landau, a Jewish Austrian teenager from a family of artists, who is forced to flee her home in Vienna carrying only a guide to household management and her father's last novel, hidden on pages stuffed inside a viola. Elise hides as a parlor maid in a fine English country estate, but soon she discovers that passion can be found in the most unexpected places. Already a bestseller in Britain, American readers will thrill to The House at Tyneford.”—Katherine Howe, New York Times bestselling author of The House of Velvet and Glass

“Like Downton, this romance compellingly explores the upstairs-downstairs dynamic of estate life.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Solomons’s poignant tale provides richly textured details that hold the reader’s interest. Fans of Ann Patchett will find Solomons’s style similar and will appreciate how the subdued tone and the quiet of the countryside contrast with the roar of war.”—Library Journal

“Halfway though, I was so invested in this gorgeously written story that I could barely read on, fearful that what I wished to happen would never come to pass. Permeated with an exquisite sadness, it reminded me of Atonement . . . I adored this book.”—Donna Marchetti, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Meet the Author

Natasha Solomons is a screenwriter and the New York Times bestselling author of The Gallery of Vanished Husbands, The House at Tyneford, and Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English. She lives in Dorset, England, with her husband and young son.

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The House at Tyneford: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 82 reviews.
pudljmpr More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book and hated for it to end. Hopefully there will be a sequel. If you loved "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" you will not be disappointed with this read.
jenifernelissen More than 1 year ago
if you are looking for a read that makes you feel as if you are right there in the story and not just reading it, look no farther. Elise is used to the comfy life in Vienna. When that life is threathened by the growing events of WW2, she is sent to be a parlor maid in England. Life at Tyneford is hard to adjsut to, but it all changes when she becomes friends with Kit, the son of Tyneford's owner. They fall in love & intend to marry. Before they do, Kit goes off to fight in the war. Alise & Kit's father are forced to leanon one another to get through the roller coeaster of the war. From being shot at by an enemy plane, to being taken by the police, & the discrimination, The House At Tyneford takes you through everything having to do with the war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book started out slow for me but, by mid-way through, I couldn't put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow! This novel had me hooked from the get-go! I could hardly put it down! It is pretty dense with clues and hints about what is going on so it took a while to read. But it is wonderfully written. And now that I have finished it - I am starting over!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, it was one of those books you just don't want to end. It takes you away to another place and time. Excellent book...
kindreader More than 1 year ago
A beautiful story was told from beginning to end, now one of my favorite books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. Except when I was nearing the last chapters I would stop reading for a few minutes (I didn't want the story to end) but I needed to know what was to happen so I began reading again to the end
DoctormomTX More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book. I had just finished reading "Beasts in the Garden" and this was a good follow-up book.
Copygirl 3 months ago
The blurb on the cover of this book recommended it to fans of Downton Abbey and Kate Morton's books, both of which I love. It did not disappoint. It's the time period of Downton Abbey, but it reminded me more of all I love about Kate Morton's books. There is an aura of mysteries to be solved, the hint of things left unsaid, the promise that all is not lost even though so much has been. I immersed myself in the book, unwilling to surface until it was finished and, honestly, not even then.
essiebaby More than 1 year ago
these prices for ebooks are terrible. I'm ready to go back to the public library and BORROW
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Sherkeekie More than 1 year ago
Excellent book!!  (listened to the audio version)  Well written and a stellar job by the narrator. Hated for it to end. NS is my new favorite author.  
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didn't think I was going to like this book but it was actually very good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Great characters, plot and ending. If you enjoy WWII british novels read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed this book!  It was a wonderful read, realistic and descriptive as a whole.  I did sort of guess what was going to transpire from the beginning of the book, but it was so interesting to see how one growing up with servants becomes a servant themselves.  Living a contradiction and in some sort of limbo.  I found the sister to be a bit dramatic, especially in regards to her actions towards the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Engrossing and nostalgic story! My new favorite!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kicks a rock and walks out
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Facinating look at life during war time and the world of upper class and servants. Descriptive writing paints vivid pictures in the reader's mind. Enjoyed the rugged seaside setting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is warm and charming. Your heart will ache for Elise when she experiences heartache and leap for joy when unexpected happiness arrives. Not only does Elise transform, but so does Tyneford House. I never thought I could feel sad for an inanimate object like a house, but I was. I hated being done with it - I may just read it again.