The Glass Room

The Glass Room

by Simon Mawer
3.8 84


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The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

A New York Times Best-Seller

Honeymooners Viktor and Liesel Landauer are filled with the optimism and cultural vibrancy of central Europe of the 1920s when they meet modernist architect Rainer von Abt. He builds for them a home to embody their exuberant faith in the future, and the Landauer House becomes an instant masterpiece.  Viktor and Liesel, a rich Jewish mogul married to a thoughtful, modern gentile, pour all of their hopes for their marriage and budding family into their stunning new home, filling it with children, friends, and a generation of artists and thinkers eager to abandon old-world European style in favor of the new and the avant-garde. But as life intervenes, their new home also brings out their most passionate desires and darkest secrets. As Viktor searches for a warmer, less challenging comfort in the arms of another woman, and Liesel turns to her wild, mischievous friend Hana for excitement, the marriage begins to show signs of strain. The radiant honesty and idealism of 1930 quickly evaporate beneath the storm clouds of World War II. As Nazi troops enter the country, the family must leave their old life behind and attempt to escape to America before Viktor's Jewish roots draw Nazi attention, and before the family itself dissolves.

As the Landauers struggle for survival abroad, their home slips from hand to hand, from Czech to Nazi to Soviet possession and finally back to the Czechoslovak state, with new inhabitants always falling under the fervent and unrelenting influence of the Glass Room. Its crystalline perfection exerts a gravitational pull on those who know it, inspiring them, freeing them, calling them back, until the Landauers themselves are finally drawn home to where their story began.

Brimming with barely contained passion and cruelty, the precision of science, the wild variance of lust, the catharsis of confession, and the fear of failure - the Glass Room contains it all.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590513965
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Publication date: 10/27/2009
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 326,896
Product dimensions: 5.56(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.37(d)

About the Author

Simon Mawer was born in England and spent his childhood there, in Cyprus, and in Malta. His previous novels include The Fall (winner of the Boardman Tasker Prize), The Gospel of Judas, and Mendel's Dwarf (long-listed for the Man Booker Prize). He now lives in Italy with his wife and teaches at St. George's British International School in Rome.

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The Glass Room 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 84 reviews.
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
The Glass Room Simon Mawer The author has captured the time in Europe, just after World War I when hopes were high for the future, straight through the ensuing decades when hopes were dashed; time travels seamlessly through World War II with the ultimate Communist take-over of several countries and then across the ocean to America, where the future is being made and some ultimately find safety from the turmoil, death and destruction overseas. The book spans almost 7 decades as we travel with the Landauers through their memories and those of the people who touched their lives in the house they had built for themselves, which represented a hopeful future, without encumbrances, where everyone would be free and life would be transparent. The house is the connection for all of the characters as it is the repository of those memories. Eventually the "glasraum" (the glass room which is the central part of the house.architecturally beautiful and without artifice), brings the survivors all full circle, back to the beginning of the history of the house, where the memories were made and connects it to a time in 1990. Socialism has proven to be a total failure.and the house has been restored to its former glory. As the pages turned, I found myself holding my breath, finding it very hard to read, as the fear and anger of the times, coupled with other varied emotions, assaulted my senses with every word and every image the author created. The apparent apathy and ignorance of the populace was unnerving. They were sitting ducks when the enemy finally pounced. They were totally unprepared for the evil that befell them and those that escaped the evil, turned a blind eye so as not to let it touch them. The emotional distance from which they viewed the hardships around them was hard to contemplate without fury at their complacence. It is ironic that the Glass Room was built to represent art, form and transparency at a time when the most duplicitous evil ruler rose to power. Rather than the high form of beauty, represented by the house, horror rose out of Germany and spread its disease across Europe. The characters, places and circumstances are introduced and then simply disappear, in much the same way as people disappeared and circumstances changed, during World War II. One moment they were all right and the next, they were never seen again. Hitler's evil and his takeover of power was subtle and deceitful. With very few nightmarish explanations and very little horrifying imagery, the author definitely evokes the horror, injustice, fear, treachery and all other aspects of World War II. It is not your typical Holocaust novel since it is about so much more. but it sheds light on that era with amazing clarity and shows the progression of society over the following decades.
bornok More than 1 year ago
An incredible read. Great plot. Outstanding writing. Reminds one of Sophie's Choice in its pace and development. Not surprising that it won the Booker Prize.
tumbledry More than 1 year ago
I loved the language of this book. I really anticipated a rich, deep story of history, architecture, and love. I wanted to love the built and grew to something I anticipated to be wonderful. At some point the author decided that this was a story of some people, mixed up in a political mess, living in a really awesome house. Then the house was not connected and we were reading about a lesbian woman, a boring family and a prostitute and her daughter. Close to the end the author introduces us to some uninteresting characters who are only needed to make a plot point, but are needed for nothing else. I am still trying to figure out why the obsession with public hair in the 2nd half of the book...
sandiek More than 1 year ago
In the late 1920's, Czech honeymooners Viktor and Liesel Landauer consider themselves part of the new, vibrant European philosophy of liberal thought focused on the arts and benignly agnostic. They meet an architect starting his career in Vienna who exemplifies the new thought and hire him to build them a house created from the minimalist school where the heavy designs of the past are out. Instead, they want a house with open areas, minimal furniture and clear visions both inside and out. Spare in design, the house has living quarters upstairs and the lower floor is one vast glassed room that overlooks the city. Young, wealthy and valued patrons of the arts, the Laundauers seem to have it all. But gilded perfect lives rarely stay that way. There are strains on the marriage as the years pass. Children arrive and their love moves to a settled relationship and each starts to venture outside the marriage for friendship and romance. As the years pass and move inevitably towards the mid-1940's, all of Europe changes with the advent of the Nazi Party and Hitler's unstoppable drive to rule all that he sees. Viktor is Jewish. He is not observant, but that makes no difference. Viktor clearly sees what is coming. He manages to convince Liesel that they must leave, and with their children, nanny and her child who has been raised with their children, they move to Switzerland. They learn what is going on from friends and family that remain behind. All that they treasured is lost. Many of their friends are caught up in the Nazi horrors and their glorious house built to celebrate a new age is now a "research station" where people are measured in an attempt to find the markers that separate Jew from non-Jew. The Glass Room has a 2009 finalist for the Man Booker Prize. In it, Mawer leads the reader through the horror of what man can do to man without clubbing them over the head with unceasing details. He also shows how men and women hurt each other while trying to carve out a place of safety and love for themselves. The book not only covers the years of World War II, but the Communist era that followed in this area. It is highly recommended for all readers and is a book I'll remember for a long time.
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
In central Europe during the 1920's, newlyweds, Viktor and Liesel Landauer meet acclaimed architect, Rainer von Abt. A modernist of his time, he agrees to build the them a house like no other. One designed with sharp angles, wide, open spaces and a room made of glass. Viktor, quite the modernist himself, is taken with the idea. A room made of glass? How exquisite. Liesel on the other hand, must be convinced. A house like this is not meant for a family, is it? Once complete, the house is a work of art. Cement and steel and of course, the large glass panels that make up the glass room. As von Abt states: "A work of art like this demands that the life lived in it be a work of art as well." The life lived within it is not a work of art though. Instead, there is a marriage placed crudely under a microscope where the reader is allowed to view all of its intricacies. There is love, much love but there is also rampant infidelity, lesbianism, and matters of race, religion and politics. Mawer places it all before you and then steps back, allowing the reader to be an observer in this experiment. The writing is clinical, almost sterile yet sensual. Everyone in this novel is stripped bare. The characters, all of them, are complex creatures but we are reminded more than once that they are in fact, creatures and they often behave as animals do. Sometimes this is shocking because as you read, you feel as if you shouldn't be sharing this intimate space with them. Yet, you cannot walk away. "Don't be fooled by the Glass Room. It's only as rational as the people who inhabit it." Sharp and edgy, I found myself completely absorbed with the story. What makes it even more intriguing is that such a house exists. Villa Tugendhat is located in Brno in the Czech Republic and the inspiration behind The Glass Room. It was designed by Mies van der Rohe between 1928 and 1930. Although the story centers around this house, the rest of the story is a work of fiction. With a large part of the novel centering around World War II, it's no wonder that the words, sterile and antiseptic come to mind but in between the starkness, there is beauty. A lot of other reviewers did not care for the coldness of the characters. I didn't see them as cold, but somewhat reserved depending on the situation. Formal, is probably a better word. As formal as they were, the last page brought a tear to my eye. I wasn't expecting to tear up but emotion overcame me and I found myself re-reading that last page over and over again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Glass Room takes you back in time. The characters are so strong. You feel you know them personally and can picture each one's traits and style. The book takes you to an unusal house for this time period. By the end of the story you know this house and each room, especailly the glass room, and all the people who were somehow a part of this house.
bongie More than 1 year ago
Had a hard time reading this book. The story was fine but the writer failed us by going on and on a showing no emotion all threw the book. I wouldn't tell anyone to read this and hope the author learns and does better next time.
LifeExamined More than 1 year ago
The Glass Room was captivating. The central character, the house itself, reflects upon a real glass house by the architect Mies van der Rohr (sp?). In truth, the characters sometimes struggle to star in comparison to the sterling descriptions of the house. Nonetheless, most of them do star and remain in my memory, weeks later. Now I will read all of Mawer's novels including his first which is out of print. He is a writer to gobble up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer is fantastic novel. It was inspired by a real house, the Tugendhat House built by Mies Van der Rohe in the Czech Republic in 1930. It has wonderfully interesting characters, twists & turns and a unique concept. I love how everything seemed to revolve around the glass room. I think this would make a great book club choice as there is much to discuss in it. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer is a terric book. I first heard about it when it was reviewed on the NPR radio show hosted by Diane Rehm. There I learned that it was inspired by a real house, the Tugendhat House built by Mies Van der Rohe in the Czech Republic in 1930. I saw photographs and learned of it's history online, and immediately wanted to read the book. This is a novel that borrows from the real story at times, but is an amazingly original work. I found it to be a page turner, with many twists, and completely enthralling. The characters are beautifully drawn and the central character "the glass room" is described exactly like the glass room in the Tugendhat House. The political and cultural environment of the time period is a major factor in this book including the Nazi's invasion of Checkoslavia as well as the escape and resettlement of the owners of the home, a Jewish family. The book covers many years and what happens to all the characters, including glass room and it many uses during the time. I highly recommend this novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Simon Mawer did an excellent job at creating his characters and drawing the reader into the characters' lives. Mawer obviously did quite a bit of research into the period. Although at times the action was a bit flat, an unexpected twist or event would almost shock the reader into needing to see what happened next.
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DrSEP More than 1 year ago
One of the most interesting books that I have read this year. Gives a unique view of the world prior and during World War II by focusing on a wealthy family,their friends, and their staff in the former Chechoslovakia. The political and economic climate is the backdrop for the glass house that the family builds. It continues to serve, albeit not for the purpose of origin. Relationships, changing emotions and the desparation of the times are all reflected within its boundaries. I would definitely read more by this author and would highly recommend it for book clubs and any readers who wish to enjoy an unusual work of historical fiction.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
Europe between the wars is heady in its mix of optimism and foreboding, and both impel the reader’s involvement in this story of the unlikely meeting between a Czech Jewish capitalist and his wife in Venice to a brash and forward-looking minimalist Austrian architect. The result is the Landauer House of the story with its famed 'der Glasraum'. The author adds a note that ”raum” in German means much more than “room”: it also encompasses “space,” “volume,” and “zone” in its expansive meanings. And this is literally what the architect in/of the novel intended: that outside is in and inside is out and the space and light he captured are the art he intended to achieve. The novel mirrors the architecture: magnificent and sprawling, yet contained, the expansive room with glass sides reveals all. The motivations of the characters are not hidden; flaws and beauty are apparent. If this book were a piece of music, it might be a piano sonata in several movements, for music rings throughout the house and this book. Special note is made of a young composer, Vitezslava Kaprálová, who died at 25 years of age the day France fell to the Germans in the world-encompassing European conflict of the 20th century. But the book is more than the house, or the glass room. It is the intimate history of several intersecting lives of that period, and later, when they meet again. It is compulsive reading, for its revelations were shocking then, and even to us now. The european-ness of the novel is strong, like a flavor, a color, or a sound. We become reacquainted with the Czech word l¿tost, the unbearable sadness of being, and are reminded of the deep and now ghostly scars of war. A bravo performance by Mawer, whose other works I shall follow with avidity.
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