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Ten great books set in Vienna

19th July 2021

Vienna is the latest city for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in Vienna. Vienna is Austria’s capital and lies in the country’s east on the Danube River. Its artistic and intellectual legacy was shaped by residents including Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud. The city is also known for its Imperial palaces, including Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs’ summer residence.

‘The streets of Vienna are paved with culture, the streets of other cities with asphalt’ – Karl Kraus

The TobacconistTen great books set in Vienna by Robert Seethaler

When seventeen-year-old Franz exchanges his home in the idyllic beauty of the Austrian lake district for the bustle of Vienna, his homesickness quickly dissolves amidst the thrum of the city. In his role as apprentice to the elderly tobacconist Otto Trsnyek, he will soon be supplying the great and good of Vienna with their newspapers and cigarettes. Among the regulars is a Professor Freud, whose predilection for cigars and occasional willingness to dispense romantic advice will forge a bond between him and young Franz.

It is 1937. In a matter of months Germany will annex Austria and the storm that has been threatening to engulf the little tobacconist will descend, leaving the lives of Franz, Otto and Professor Freud irredeemably changed.

Amadeus by Peter Shaffer

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a genius, the most brilliant musician the world will ever see. But the court of eighteenth-century Vienna doesn’t recognize his talents – only Antonio Salieri, the Court Composer, does, and he is tortured by what he hears.

Seething with rage at the genius of this flippant buffoon and suddenly aware of his own mediocrity, Salieri declares war and sets out to destroy the man he sees as God’s instrument on earth.

Peter Shaffer’s award-winning play is a rich, exuberant portrayal of a God-like man among mortals, and lives destroyed by envy.

A Woman of Note by Carol M. Cram

Virtuoso pianist Isabette Grüber captivates audiences in the salons and concert halls of early nineteenth-century Vienna. Yet in a profession dominated by men, Isabette longs to compose and play her own music—a secret she keeps from both her lascivious manager and her resentful mother. She meets and loves Amelia Mason, a dazzling American singer with her own secrets, and Josef Hauser, an ambitious young composer. But even they cannot fully comprehend the depths of Isabette’s talent.

Her ambitions come with a price when Isabette embarks on a journey that delicately walks the line between duty and passion. Amid heartbreak and sacrifice, music remains her one constant. With cameos from classical music figures such as Chopin, Schubert, and Berlioz, A Woman of Note is an intricately crafted and fascinating tale about one woman’s struggle to find her soul’s song in a dissonant world.

Ten great books set in ViennaRequiem in Vienna by J Sydney Jones

In the 1890s, a series of accidents plague Vienna’s Court Opera and then a singer is killed during rehearsals of a new production.

It would seem that someone is trying to murder Gustav Mahler. And Mahler may not be the first musical genius to have been targeted! Karl Werthen is engaged to help stop the attacks and with associates he delves into Vienna’s rich society of musicians to discover the identity of the person who has targeted one of Austria’s best-known artists.

A mystery that will leave you guessing until the end.

Diplomatic Impunity by Jaya Gulhaugen

1956. It is the time of the Hungarian Revolution and the KGB loom ominously in the background.

The Gilman family has just arrived and are getting settled in the city, he a CIA agent and Peggy is wife, mother and amateur sleuth. Ballrooms are in full swing coming up to Christmas and then there is a death – in true mystery style there are clues, red herrings and interesting detail.

The English Girl by Margaret Leroy

A 17 year old innocent English girl arrives in Vienna in 1937, to train at the prestigious music academy. She enjoys the sights and sounds of Vienna, and falls in love. However as the threat of war become ever stronger, the girl discovers that all is not as perfect as it seems, and lives are at risk

Ten great books set in ViennaTante Jolesch or The Decline of the West in Anecdotes by Friedrich Torberg

Already a much loved classic in Austria, “Tante Jolesch or the Decline of the West in Anecdotes” is Friedrich Torberg’s tribute to the Jewish coffee-house world that flourished in Vienna in the afterglow of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its final collapse in 1938. Based on Torberg’s personal memories of intellectuals and eccentrics of the time, including Egon Friedell, Fritz Grunbaum, Egon Erwin Kisch, Alfred Polgar, and Franz Werfel, this work evokes the storytelling and humour prominent among Vienna’s coffee-house denizens. These anecdotes allow one to see into the lives of assimilated Jews before the Shoah, beginning in the living room of Tante Jolesch, revolving around the coffee-house, and extending to summer resorts, sports matches, dinner parties, a psychiatric clinic under the care of Sigmund Freud, and the office of a U.S. consular official in charge of granting visas to the United States.In this volume, Torberg builds a literary monument to a group of people, a time, and a culture of which he saw himself as one of the last representatives.

The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta

Vienna, 1948. The war is over, and as the initial phase of de-Nazification winds down, the citizens of Vienna struggle to rebuild their lives amidst the rubble.

Anna Beer returns to the city she fled nine years earlier after discovering her husband’s infidelity. She has come back to find him and, perhaps, to forgive him. Traveling on the same train from Switzerland is 18-year-old Robert Seidel, a schoolboy summoned home to his stepfather’s sickbed and the secrets of his family’s past.

As Anna and Robert navigate an unrecognizable city, they cross paths with a war-widowed American journalist, a hunchbacked young servant girl, and a former POW whose primary purpose is to survive by any means and to forget. Meanwhile, in the shells of burned-out houses and beneath the bombed-out ruins, a ghost of a man, his head wrapped in a red scarf, battles demons from his past and hides from a future that is deeply uncertain for all.

Mortal Mischief by Frank Tallis

Dr Max Liebermann is a young psychoanalyst – and disciple of Freud. Psychoanalysis is only just developing and viewed with a mixture of excitement and suspicion. The world of 1900s Vienna is one where philosophy, science and art are at their most exciting and flourishing, with the coffee shops full of men and women debating the lates cultural and political theories.
Liebermann’s good friend oskare Rheinhardt is a Detective Inspector – hard working but lacking Liebermann’s insights and forensic eye. Through Rheinhardt, Liebermann is called upon to help with police investigations surrounding the death of a beautiful young medium, in what seem at first to be supernatural circumstances. While Liebermann attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery, he also must decide whether to follow his father’s advice and marry the beautiful but reserved Clara.

The Lady in Gold by Anne Marie O’Connor

Partly the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who is the subject of the painting later renamed by Austria as “The Lady in Gold” – was she one of Klimt’s lovers? Who’s to know? An intimate portrait of her in paint and a portrait of her and her family. And partly this is the story of how a brave relative fought to retrieve the painting after the Nazi lootings.

To review all the TF 60 plus books set in Vienna, please click here

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