Sunday, July 8, 2012

"The House of Tyneford," by Natasha Solomons

Did you love “Upstairs, Downstairs”? And “Downton Abbey”? If so, you will love “The House of Tyneford” (Plume, 2011), a novel by Natasha Solomons, as well. It is one of those very English stories, and tells of a lovely, rather isolated area on the coast of England, with its old English country house and all its traditions, along with the village people nearby, fishing and tending sheep. It is all very charming, old-fashioned, and idyllic. But it is also very serious. The time is just before World War II, and Elise, a young Jewish woman from an educated and well-off family in Vienna is sent to the English house to be a housemaid, a common event during that time period, used as a way to keep the young woman out of harm’s way during the increasingly brutal treatment of Jewish people in Austria and elsewhere. She is separated from her novelist father and her opera singer mother, who are hoping for visas to the United States, and from her older sister, who has already emigrated to the United States with her professor husband. Elise soon begins a romance with the son of the house, and she moves in and out of various strata of people in the house and in the village, not quite belonging anywhere, but making friends and connections nevertheless. She also falls in love with the area, and especially with living by the sea. Meanwhile she is constantly worried about her family members, misses them desperately, and is consoled just a little by her possession of a family viola with her father’s latest novel manuscript stuffed into it. As the war begins and proceeds, there are many twists and turns to the story. There is danger, sweetness, romance, sadness, loss and redemption. This is an affecting story, one that I enjoyed very much.

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