Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore

Beatrice Palmer is an innocent Irish girl, who makes lace and longs to escape her dreary hometown in County Mayo. A strange woman who claims to be a countess provides her with an opportunity to leave Ireland, and Beatrice seizes it.

The Countess says that her dear friends, Felix and Dorothea Metzenburg of Berlin, love lace and would be delighted to have a lacemaker of their own. But when they arrive in Germany Beatrice finds that the Metzenburgs do not actually seem to need a lacemaker at all. By the time Beatrice realizes this, the Countess is gone and she is stranded in Germany. It is 1938.

 Beatrice feels like a girl in a fairy tale, whisked away from drudgery to a life of beauty and luxury. The Metzenburgs are extremely rich and far too well-bred to reject the young Irish woman on their doorstep. But they are also in big trouble: Dorothea Metzenburg is rumored to have Jewish blood. They are packing up and fleeing Berlin, hoping to lie low in their country estate until the danger is past. They take Beatrice with them, along with a few elderly servants and an enormous stash of valuable stuff: porcelain and silver, medieval altarpieces and Rubens sketches, crystal chandeliers and antique manuscripts.

 Gradually, the shy outsider becomes an integral part of this strange, frightened little family. Surrounded by constant danger and exquisite things, they soon run out of food and money. What good is your lovely Meissen porcelain when you’re eating herbs and roots found in the woods? Beatrice’s new life is no fairy tale; the war playing out across Europe is cruelly indifferent to her plight.

 The Life of Objects is the story of World War II told from the point of view of people who did not support it or fight it. They endured it, because they had nowhere to go. The minute details of what happen to them as the years go by make for a captivating novel.

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