Sebastian, Christoph Fischer’s second novel in the Three Nations Trilogy, is set in Vienna and Galicia in Central Europe. His first book in the trilogy, The Luck of the Weissensteiners, is set in Eastern Europe prior, during, and after World War II. Once again, he’s written a historical account of life as lived by Jews who hide or abandon their cultural and religious heritage because of fear of prosecution, and it also explores the lives of gentiles who are closely aligned with the Jewish community. The lives of the characters, including Sebastian, create a personal view as the war plays out in the backdrop. The war and all its residual effects are felt in the lives of Sebastian’s immediate family and by those that circle him peripherally. No one is particularly religious in both of the books, so it comes as a shock to the characters to be divided along those lines. It forces them to do things they aren’t proud of, such as shunning someone because of their heritage or their association with someone of a particular background.
Not only is war’s turmoil shown through the individuals, but the popular culture is recounted as well. The Glueck family draws Sebastian’s mother, Vera, into experiments with psychoanalysis, which is the “in” thing as Freud emerges on the scene with some outlandish notions about the mind. The occult and seances make an appearance, too. Vera and others seek out meduims to attempt to learn the fate of their husbands and sons sent off to war. Fischer explores these topics and presents both sides as represented by the characters. He doesn’t take a side on these issues, but rather provides the reader with provocative thought to ponder the beliefs presented, which are generally disdained by the scientists of the day.
World War I goes on around and outside of the lives of Sebatian’s extended group, but Vienna remains relatively safe from the war raging just outside its borders.
I’m still thinking of the characters and their inability to communicate with one another, which leads to some unnecessary suffering and missed cues. The novel speaks volumes about this issue as lovers are star-crossed until they finally open up and tell the truth. While the communication doesn’t bring the couple together, it does provide a resolution to the mixed up wires. T
As with his first book in this trilogy, I was shaken out of my ethnocentric self. This time I witnessed the war and its impact by those living through it. The entry of the United States into the fray is nothing more than a blimp on the overall map of the war fought on the soil of Fischer’s setting. The history of the Jews prior to World War I shows that for centuries they feared and suffered at the hands of those in power, particularly in Eastern Europe. Fischer sets the stage for what will happen in the next two decades. Borders and cultures are crossed, bisected, and in some cases, obliterated.
Fischer’s attention to the real life problems caused by war is impeccable. I love that he can relate history without resorting to boring textbook discourse. The individuals’ stories show the harsh reality of what happens to the people actually put at risk during war. We’re not privvy to the high-level meetings of the political puppets holding all the strings, but the impact of those decisions are felt through lack of food and resources to survive.
If you are a lover of history brought to life through characters, I recommend reading Fischer’s novel from the Three Nations Trilogy. You’ll learn as well as become compelled to follow the characters to the final resolution, at least for that small portion of history.
Fischer has now released the final book in the trilogy, The Black Eagle Inn, which I hope to read soon. The third book explores post-World War II life in Eastern Europe.