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Wiener Blut - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
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Wiener Blut
Book Review: The Vienna Melody, by Ernst Lothar
This was another work book sale purchase that went in a different direction than I'd expected. The blurb highlights that Christopher Alt and his descendants run a piano factory in Vienna, favoured since the time of Beethoven; in fact, music turns out to be largely irrelevant to the story, and it could have been any sort of factory. Instead, the story follows the family from the late nineteenth century through to 1938. The will of Christopher Alt requires the family to live in apartments in his house in Vienna. The characters are often rather unsympathetic, self-centred, naïve, and at least obliquely anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, Franz Alt marries Henriette Stein, who is of Jewish heritage, and a former mistress of the Crown Prince. She and her children, particularly Hans, the eldest, are the main focus of the book, as the family experience the twilight of Austria-Hungary, the First World War, revolutionary politics of the 1920s, and eventually the rise of the Nazis and the Anschluss. The marriage between Franz and Henriette is loveless, though she bears three children by him and one by another; she dotes on the eldest and youngest, but the other two are relatively neglected. She shows little social awareness until it's far too late. One of her sons takes a far-right political position after the war; Hans, on the other hand, sympathises with the left. Their struggles become the focus towards the end of the book, which takes sudden and violent turns.

The post-script essentially acknowledges that the characters are based somewhat on Lothar's acquaintances. Lothar himself fled to the USA after 1938; this book was originally published there in 1944. There's no room for doubt that Lothar considered the Austrians to be victims, although he does give one of the family members links to Nazism. It's difficult, though, not to read into the text a criticism of many characters as a metaphor for the population as a whole; the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, indeed.

The text in this edition suffers from one or two of translation errors, where broken sentences simply fail to parse, and rather more typographical errors, which look as though text has been badly OCRd. This is a bit shoddy, given the promotional letter accompanying my copy effused about a "new" translation (from a translator, Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood, who died in 1974, so not all that new), but after a while you learn to live with them and not allow it to spoil the story itself.

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