This is no ordinary read. Coming from a Jewish family I found this story both compelling and deeply disturbing. Awarded three stars on Goodreads.
It takes place in what is now the Czech Republic, during the years between the 1930s and 1990. The pre-war years, the growing influence of Germany and its anti-semitic policies, and the way class determined what happened to people are all artfully addressed. I found myself deeply connected to the story of the Landauers, a wealthy family that built a magnificent dream home in the years before World War II and then following the different ways that home is used as years pass.
The characters are complex, believable and drawn with great depth. The author even paints an evil Nazi scientist somewhat sympathetically.
However, there were aspects of the book that bothered me. The focus wanders. It seems to start as a story of a family, that then gets dropped midway through the book. Then for a while, it feels like a book about the house itself. The stories do eventually get reconnected by the end, but to me, in less than a completely satisfying way. Just a little too neatly, and therefore not quite believably.
The other aspect that bothered me were the descriptions of sexual activity. They often seemed inappropriately descriptive, given the overall subject matter and tone of the book. They were also VERY male, as though the author were working out some of his own fantasies through the characters. To me these seemed unnecessary and distracting.
More about Simon Mawer.
NOTE: This book is being made into a movie.