I stepped out of our car at the rest stop on the long drive from Sacramento to LA. The music playing in front of the MacDonald’s was so light, so happy, focused on love and feelings. But suddenly it all seemed so frivolous. People milled in and out of the glass doors, wandered to and from their hot, sticky vehicles. They all seemed to blissfully unaware. Didn’t they understand the deeper things in life? Was it just all about themselves?
You see, I’d just read a stirring chapter in Vienna Prelude. And to me at that moment, I was walking among the everyday folk in America and Great Britain, among the kind of people who figured that anything that was not New York or London wasn’t worth a thought about. I felt like John Murphy, from the story, who’d despaired at the isolationist attitude running through the Allies. They didn’t know a Holocaust was coming, and did they care? Only the few, exiled Churchill and beaten Eden, saw what we know now.
But it was this book which gave me this perspective. It was this piece of fiction that spoke fact like I’ve never felt it before. There are many times in this book where I’ve cried, where I’ve been enlightened, where I have joyed or sorrowed in events so real and poignant. It is not a book of mere entertainment. It is a book to make you grow and understand. What it teaches ranges from the political to the spiritual. From this book, I’ve learned and understood the political feelings before the war. I’ve learned how people could crowd the streets to cheer Hitler. I’ve learned how one could hope in a place like Dachau, I’ve learned how the danger of isolationism can lead to another Holocaust. I’ve learned how small a person could feel when he is living in times like the late 1930s, when he knows what is coming, but can do nothing to stop its evil advance. And I’ve placed a greater meaning to the Christian idea of “hoping in the Lord.” Hope is such a little thing to people like us who are financially and politically secure, but to those people, hope was something tangible. My perspective has been shifted so I can see and appreciate the deeper things by seeing myself in their shoes and asking, how would they see this?
In critique, the style of the writing is perfect, vocabulary changes from character to character, and one reads it as though it were a movie. The narrative was a little heavy, at first, as Thoene gave us backstory and background. Around 70-80 pages into the story, things begin to really get moving, and from there, it doesn’t stop much. Amazingly, there is no long lull in the middle that has come to every other story I’ve read. Thoene does a marvelous job of pacing, mixing humor, irony, and tragedy in a rich, complex blend of perfect poignancy.
Vienna Prelude has left me with images and scenes that I’d want to remember all of my life. So many are powerful, so many have such meaning and purpose. I’ve truly learned so much, experienced so much, felt and understood so much that I could never have gained from mere history books alone. Richness and depth are my criteria for beauty, and Vienna Prelude is beautiful indeed.
“Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (JS Bach)
What God has done is rightly done.