Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

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 parlour 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 upstairs-downstairs friendship that will transform Tyneford--and Elise--forever.

My take: 4 looks
I was prepared for more of a war/Nazi/Holocaust book but was pleasantly surprised with a wonderful story of a woman who happened to be a Jew during the worst of times in history.

Elise is used to a privileged life in Vienna. Her family seems a beautiful, artistic and safe haven for the four members. As the "ugly duckling" of the family, she is the first to leave when war threatens their country and being even a non-practicing Jew is hated.

England is a different world. Different weather, smells, customs and language. She is thrust into a life of service, setting fires, pouring tea and scouring outdoor steps. The members of the house accept her and she learns to live in this place, while worrying about her family as they are desperate to leave Vienna.

Through all of this, war looms with the hint of what England must have endured. The daily lives of the characters continue as Solomons weaves the tense feeling of war with the excitement of making new friends and falling in love.

The book is based on the actual place of Tyneham, which was "requisitioned" for the war by the British government, promised back to the landowners when the war was over; however, it became a "compulsory purchase" in 1948 and remains in use today for military training. Many of the structures had been in families for generations and are now either demolished or in disrepair. The author's great grandmother and great-aunt are the basis for the characters Elise and Margot in the book.

Highly recommended.

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