But Quin now had recalled the prodigy in his wooden hut. He could attach no face to Heini, only the endless sound of the piano, but now there came the image of the pigtailed child carrying wild strawberries in her cupped hands to where he played. It had lasted then, her love for the gifted boy. If you don't want to emigrate for good, the British don't mind.
I didn't even have to have a J on my passport because I'm only partly Jewish. The Quakers were marvellous. They arranged for me to go on a student transport from Graz. They took him to that hell hole by the Danube Canal - the Gestapo House. He was held there for days and no one told me. Then they released him and told him he had to leave the country within a week with his family or be taken to a camp. They were allowed to take just one suitcase each and ten German marks - you can't live for a day on that, but of course nothing mattered as long as they could get away.
I'd gone ahead on the student transport two days before. They were looking for our Certificates of Harmless-ness. It's to show you haven't been politically active. They don't want to send people abroad who are going to make trouble for the regime. I'd read Dostoevsky, of course, and I thought one should be on the side of the proletariat and go to Siberia with people in exile and all that. I'd always worried because we seemed to have so much. I mean, it can't be right that some people should have everything and others nothing.
But what to do about it isn't always simple. It seems childish now - we thought we were so fierce. And, of course, all the time the authorities had me down as a dangerous radical! I phoned a friend of theirs because they'd cut off our telephone and she said they were off the next day. I knew that if they realized I was still in Austria they wouldn't go, so I went to stay with our old cook in Grinzing till they left.
She shrugged. The most difficult thing I've ever done.
The Morning Gift Book Review: Love, Science, and Music
I'll go to the British Consulate in the morning. There's a man called Eichmann who runs something called the Department of Emigration. He's supposed to help people to leave, but what he really does is make sure they're stripped of everything they own. You don't know what it's like - people weeping and shouting… ' He had risen and begun to walk up and down, needing to think. My grandmother had two of them, but she died last year. When I was small I used to ride round and round the corridors on my tricycle. He was decorated twice for bravery — he couldn't believe that none of that counted.
I don't think he ever thought about it. His religion was to do with people… with everyone trying to make themselves into the best sort of person they could be. He believed in a God that belonged to everyone… you had to guard the spark that was in you and make it into a flame. And my mother was brought up as a Catholic so it's doubly hard for her. She's only half-Jewish, or maybe a quarter, we're not quite sure. She had a very Aryan mother - a sort of goat-herding lady. It's hard to believe. My grandmother came from the country - the goat-herding one. My grandfather really found her tending goats — well, almost.
She came from a farm. We used to laugh at her a bit and call her Heidi; she never opened a book in her life, but I'm grateful to her now because I look like her and no one ever molests me. In the corner beside an oleander in a tub, was a painted cradle adorned with roses and lilies.
Over the headboard, painstakingly scrolled, were the words Ruthie's cradle. Quin set it rocking with the toe of his shoe. Beside him, Ruth had fallen silent. Down in the courtyard a single tree -a chestnut in full blossom - stretched out its arms. A swing was suspended from one branch; on a washing line strung between two posts hung a row of red-and-white checked tea towels, and a baby's shirt no bigger than a handkerchief.
It seemed so safe to me. The safest place in the world. She had thought of the Englishman as kind and civilized. Now the crumpled face looked devilish: the mouth twisted, the skin stretched tight over the bones. It lasted only a moment, his transformation into someone to fear. There will be something we can do. There were no words to describe the chaos and despair the Anschluss had caused.
He had arrived early at the British Consulate but already there were queues. People begged for pieces of paper - visas, passports, permits - as the starving begged for bread. She'd have to re-apply for emigration and that could take months or years. The quota's full, as you know.
Or get her a domestic work permit? My family would offer her employment. Everything's at sixes and sevens here with Austria no longer being an independent state. The Embassy's going to close and they're sending staff home all the time. Her entire family's in England - she's alone in the world.
At least nothing you'd consider. Oh, bother the girl, thought Quin. He had a sleeper booked on the evening train; the exams began in less than a week.
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When he took his sabbatical, he'd promised to be back for the end of term. Letting his deputy mark his papers was no part of his plan. He turned into the Felsengasse and went up to the first floor. The door was wide open. In the hallway, the mirror was smashed, the umbrella stand lay on its side. The word Jude had been smeared in yellow paint across the photograph of the Professor shaking hands with the Kaiser. In the drawing room, pictures had been ripped off the walls; the palm tree, tipped out of its pot, lay sprawled on the carpet. The silver ornaments were missing, the Afghan rug… In the dining room, the doors were torn from the dresser, the Meissen porcelain was gone.
On the verandah, Ruth's painted cradle had been kicked into splintered wood. He had forgotten the physical effects of rage. He had to draw several deep breaths before the giddiness passed and he could turn and go downstairs. This time the concierge was in her box. They do that when an apartment is abandoned. It's not official, but no one stops them. The Professor asked me to look after his flat, but how can I? A German diplomat is moving in next week. What happened to her? But you won't say anything, will you, Herr Doktor?
My husband's been a Nazi for years and he'd never forgive me. I could get into awful trouble. Ruth had always loved the statue of the Empress Maria Theresia on her marble plinth. Flanked by her generals, a number of horses and some box hedges, she gazed at the strolling Viennese with the self- satisfied look of a good hausfrau who has left her larder full and her cupboards tidy. Every school child knew that it was she who had made Austria great, that the six-year-old Mozart had sat on her knee, that her daughter, Marie Antoinette, had married the King of France and lost her head. But for Ruth the plump and homely Empress was something more: she was the guardian of the two great museums which flanked the square that bore her name.
To the south was the Museum of Art - a gigantic, mock Renaissance palace which housed the famous Titians, the Rembrandts, the finest Breughels in the world. To the north - its replica down to the last carved pillar and ornamented dome - was the Museum of Natural History. As a child she had loved both museums. The Art Museum belonged to her mother and it was filled with uplift and suffering and love - rather a lot of love. The Madonnas loved their babies, Jesus loved the poor sinners, and St Francis loved the birds.
In the Natural History Museum there wasn't any love, only sex - but there were stories and imagined journeys -and there was work. This was her father's world and Ruth, when she went there, was a child set apart. For when she had had her fill of the cassowary on his nest and the elephant seal with his enormous, rearing chest, and the glinting ribbons of the snakes, each in its jar of coloured fluid, she could go through a magic door and enter, like Alice, a secret, labyrinthine world. For here, behind the gilded, silent galleries with their grey-uniformed attendants, was a warren of preparation rooms and laboratories, of workshops and sculleries and offices.
It was here that the real work of the museum was done: here was the nerve centre of scholarship and expertise which reached out to every country in the world. Since she was tiny, Ruth had been allowed to watch and help. Sometimes there was a dinosaur being assembled on a stand; sometimes she was allowed to sprinkle preservative on a stretched-out skin or polish glass slides for a histologist drawing the mauve and scarlet tissues of a cell, and her father's room was as familiar to her as his study in the Felsengasse.
In earlier times, Ruth might have sought sanctuary in a temple or a church. Now, homeless and desolate, she came to this place. It was Tuesday, the day the museum was closed to the public. Silently, she opened the side door and made her way up the stairs. Her father's room was exactly as he had left it. His lab coat was behind the door; his notes, beside a pile of reprints, were on the desk.
On a work bench by the window was the tray of fossil bones he had been sorting before he left. No one yet had unscrewed his name from the door, nor confiscated the two sets of keys, one of which she had left with the concierge. She put her suitcase down by the filing cabinet and wandered through into the cloakroom with its gas ring and kettle. Leading out of it was a preparation room with shelves of bottles and a camp bed on which scientists or technicians working long hours sometimes slept for a while. But why should he come, this Englishman who owed her nothing?
Why should he even have got the keys she had left with the concierge? Hardly aware of what she was doing, she pulled a stool towards the tray of jumbled bones and began, with practised fingers, to separate out the vertebrae, brushing them free of earth and fragments of rock.
As she bent forward, her hair fell on the tray and she gathered it together and twisted it into a coil, jamming a long-handled paintbrush through its mass. Heini liked her hair long and she'd learnt that trick from a Japanese girl at the university. The silence was palpable. It was early evening now; everyone had gone home.
Not even the water pipes, not even the lift, made their usual sounds. Painstakingly, pointlessly, Ruth went on sorting the ancient cave bear bones and waited without hope for the arrival of the Englishman. Yet when she heard the key turn in the door, she did not dare to turn her head. Look at the size of the neural canal. Quin, meanwhile, was registering a number of features revealed by Ruth's skewered hair: ears… the curve of her jaw… and those vulnerable hollows at the back of the neck which prevent the parents of young children from murdering them.
And then: 'You had no luck at the Consulate? But we'll get you out of Vienna. What happened back at the flat? Did you save anything? I packed some things and went down the fire escape. They weren't after me. Not this time. He was silent, still automatically sorting the specimens. Then he pushed away the tray! I've brought a picnic. Rather a special one. Where shall we have it? I can clear the table and there's another chair next door. Now where shall we go? You have a fine collection of lions, I see; a little moth-eaten perhaps, but very nicely mounted.
Or there's the Amazon - I'm partial to anacondas, aren't you? No, wait; what about the Arctic? I've brought rather a special Chablis and it's best served chilled. You don't want to go back in time? To the Dinosaur Hall? Too much like work. And frankly I'm not too happy about that ichthyosaurus. Whoever assembled that skeleton had a lot of imagination. He was very ill and he so much wanted to get it finished before he died.
Let's goto Madagascar! The Ancient Continent of Lemuria! There's an aye-aye there, a baby - such a sad-looking little thing. You'll really like the aye-aye. Perhaps you can find us a towel or some newspaper; that's all we need. I'm sure eating here's against the regulations but we won't let that trouble us. There could be doubts about her face thought Quin, with its contrasting motifs, but none about her impossible, unruly, unfashionable hair.
Touched now by the last rays of the sinking sun, it gave off a tawny, golden warmth that lifted the heart. It was a strange walk they took through the enormous, shadowy rooms, watched by creatures preserved for ever in their moment of time. Antelopes no bigger than cats raised one leg, ready to flee across the sandy veld.
The monkeys of the New World hung, huddled and melancholy, from branches - and by a window a dodo, idiotic-looking and extinct, sat on a nest of reconstructed eggs. Madagascar was all that Ruth had promised. Ring-tailed lemurs with piebald faces held nuts in their amazingly human hands.
A pair of indris, cosy and fluffy like children's toys, groomed each other's fur. Tiny mouse lemurs clustered round a coconut. And alone, close to the glass, the aye-aye… Only half-grown, hideous and melancholy, with huge despairing eyes, naked ears and one uncannily extended finger, like the finger of a witch. Though I did find one tribe who believe they have the power to carry the souls of the dead to heaven. With the French expedition? It must be so beautiful!
The trees are so tangled with vines and orchids - you can't believe the scent. And the sunbirds, and the chameleons… ' 'You're so lucky. I was going to travel with my father as soon as I was old enough, but now… ' She groped for her handkerchief and tried again. Instead, he took the towel and spread it on the parquet. Then he began to unpack the hamper. There was a jar of pate and another of pheasant breasts. There were fresh rolls wrapped in a snowy napkin and pats of butter in a tiny covered dish. He had brought the first Morello cherries and grapes and two chocolate souffles in fluted pots.
The plates were of real china; the long-stemmed goblets of real glass.
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How could you get all that? How did you have the time? It only took ten minutes. All I had to do was pay. Was it British to be like this, or was it something about him personally? Her father - all the men she knew - would have sat back and waited for their wives. When it was finished it was like a banquet in a fairy story, yet like playing houses when one was a child. But when she began to eat, there were no more thoughts; she was famished; it was all she could do to remember her manners.
And the wine is absolutely lovely. It's not strong is it? Tonight she was entitled to repose however it was brought about. It's in the north-west, do you know it? He's in Budapest getting his emigration papers and saying goodbye to his father, but there won't be any trouble. He's Hungarian and the Nazis don't have anything to say there.
After the goat-herding lady died, my grandfather married the daughter of a rabbi who already had a little girl - she was a widow - and that was Heini's mother, so we're not blood relations. A real one. He was going to have his debut with the Philharmonic… three days after Hitler marched in. He was absolutely frantic. I didn't know how to comfort him; not properly. Properly, I mean. We were going to go away together after the concert, to Italy.
I'd have gone earlier but my parents are very old-fashioned… also there was the thing about Chopin and the etudes. How do Chopin etudes come into this? It had been so lovely, the wine, like drinking fermented hope or happiness, and now she was babbling and being indiscreet and would end up in the gutter, a confirmed absinthe drinker destined for a pauper's grave.
But Quin was waiting and she plunged. I mean that… you know… the same energy goes into composing and… the other thing. A sort of vital force. And this professor thought it was good for Heini to wait. But then Heini found out that the professor was wrong about the way to finger the Appassionata, so then he thought maybe he was wrong about Chopin too. Because there was George Sand, wasn't there? It wasn't till they had finished the meal and Ruth, moving nimbly in the gathering darkness, had cleared away and packed up the hamper, that he said: 'I've been thinking what to do.
I think we must get you out of Vienna to somewhere quiet and safe in the country. Then we can start again from England. I know a couple of people in the Foreign Office; I'll be able to pull strings. I doubt if anyone will bother you away from the town and I shall make sure that you have plenty of money to see you through.
With your father and all of us working away at the other end we'll be able to get you across before too long. But you must get away from here. Is there anyone you could go to? She lives by the Swiss border, in the Vorarlberg. She'd have me, but I don't know if I ought to inflict myself on anyone.
If I'm unclean — ' 'Don't talk like that,' he said harshly. Now tell me exactly where she lives and I'll see to everything. What about tonight? There's a camp bed.
What about the night watchman? And if he does, he's known me since I was a baby. At two in the morning, Quin got out of bed and wondered what had made him leave a girl hardly out of the schoolroom to spend a night alone in a deserted building full of shadows and ghosts. Dressing quickly, he made his way down the Ringstrasse, crossed the Theresienplatz, and let himself in by the side entrance.
Ruth was asleep on the camp bed in the preparation room. Her hair streamed onto the floor and she was holding something in her arms as a child holds a well-loved toy. Professor Berger's master key unlocked also the exhibition cases. It was the huge-eyed aye-aye that Ruth held to her breast. Its long tail curved up stiffly over her hand and its muzzle lay against her shoulder. Quin, looking down at her, could only pray that, as she slept, the creature that she cradled was carrying her soul to the rain-washed streets of Belsize Park, and the country which now sheltered all those that she loved.
Leonie Berger got carefully out of bed and turned over the pillow so that her husband, who was pretending to be asleep on the other side of the narrow, lumpy mattress, would not notice the damp patch made by her tears. Then she washed and dressed very attentively, putting on high-heeled court shoes, silk stockings, a black shirt and crisply ironed white blouse, because she was Viennese and one dressed properly even when one's world had ended. Then she started being good.
Leonie had been brave when they left Vienna, secreting a diamond brooch in her corset which was foolhardy in the extreme. She had been sensible and loving, for that was her nature, making sure that the one suitcase her husband was allowed to take contained all the existing notes for his book on Mammals of the Pleistocene, his stomach pills and the special nail clippers which alone enabled him to manicure his toes. She had been patient with her sister-in-law, Hilda, who was emigrating on a domestic work permit, but had fallen over her untied shoelaces as they made their way onto the Channel steamer, and she had cradled the infant of a fellow refugee while his mother was sick over the rails.
Even when she saw the accommodation rented for them by their sponsor, a distantly related dentist who had emigrated years earlier and built up a successful practice in the West End, Leonie only grumbled a little. The rooms on the top floor of a dilapidated lodging house in Belsize Close were cold and dingy, the furniture hideous, the cooking facilities horrific, but they were cheap.
But that was when she thought Ruth was waiting for them in the student camp on the South Coast. Since the letter had come from the Quaker Relief Organization to say that Ruth was not on the train, Leonie had started being good. This meant never at any moment criticizing a single thing.
It meant inhaling with delight the smell of slowly expiring cauliflower from the landing where a female psychoanalyst from Breslau shared their cooker. It meant admiring the scrofulous tom cats yowling in the square of rubble that passed for a garden. It meant being enchanted by the hissing gas fire which ate pennies and gave out only fumes and blue flames.
It meant angering no living thing, standing aside from houseflies, consuming with gratitude a kind of brown sauce which came in bottles and was called coffee. It meant telling God or anyone else who would listen at all hours of the day and night, that she would never again complain whatever happened if only Ruth was safe and came to them. If she hadn't been so desperate about Ruth, Leonie would have greatly pitied her sister-in-law, who was constantly bitten by Mrs Manfred's pug and found it impossible to believe that a bath, once cleaned, also had to be dried, but now she could only be thankful that Hilda would not be around to 'help' her with her chores.
At eight o'clock, Uncle Mishak, the English dictionary in the pocket of his coat, set off up the hill to join the long queue of foreigners in Hampstead Town Hall who waited daily for news of relatives, for instructions, for permission to remain - and as he walked, a tiny compact figure stopping to examine a rose bush in a garden or address an unattended-dog, he was hailed by the acquaintances this kind old man had made even in the ten days he had been in exile.
They're coming over all the time. She'll come, you'll see. And as Uncle Mishak made his way up the hill, Professor Berger, holding himself very erect, forcing himself to swing his walking stick, made his way downhill for the daily journey to Bloomsbury House where a bevy of Quakers, social workers and civil servants tried to sort out the movements of the dispossessed - and as he walked through the grey streets whose very stones seemed to be permeated with homesickness, he raised his hat to other exiles going about their business.
He had no work permit, his quartet was disbanded, but each day he went to the Jewish Day Centre to practise in an unused cloakroom, and each night he dressed up in a cummerbund to play bogus gypsy music in a Hungarian restaurant in exchange for his food. Left alone in the dingy rooms, Leonie continued to be good. There were plenty of opportunities for this as she set about the housework.
The thick layer of grease where the psychoanalyst's stew had boiled over would normally have sent her raging down to the second-floor front where Fraulein Lutzenholler sat under a picture of Freud and mourned, but she wiped it up without a word. The bathroom, shared by all the occupants, provided almost unlimited opportunities for virtue. There was a black rim around the bath, the soaked bathmat was crumpled up in a corner… and Miss Bates, a nursery school teacher and the only British survivor at Number 27, had hung a row of dripping camiknickers on a sagging piece of string. None of it mattered.
Loving Miss Bates, hoping she would find a husband soon, Leonie wrung out the knickers, cleaned the bath. She had had servants all her life, but she knew how to work. Now everything she did was offered up to God: the Catholic God of her childhood, the Jewish God on whose behalf all these bewildered people roamed the streets of North-West London… any God, what did it matter so long as he brought her her child?
Then, at twelve o'clock, she renewed her make-up and set off for the Willow Tea Rooms. Even at a distance it was easy to see how carefully she walked, with what politeness she spoke to the pigeons who crossed her path. And: 'It's bad news,' said her sister, Miss Violet, carrying a tray of empty cups to Mrs Burtt in the kitchen, who took her arms out of the washing-up water and said that Hitler would have something to answer for if ever she got hold of him.
Miss Maud and Miss Violet Harper had started the Willow Tea Rooms five years earlier when it was discovered that their father, the General, had not been as provident as they had hoped. It was a pretty place on the corner of a small square behind Belsize Lane and they had made it nice with willow-pattern china, dimity curtains and a pottery cat on the windowsill. Reared to regard foreigners as, at best, unfortunate, the ladies had stoutly resisted the demands of the refugees who increasingly thronged the district.
The Glori-ette in St John's Wood might serve cakes with outlandish names and slop whipped cream over everything, the proprietors of the Cosmo in Finchley might supply newspapers on sticks and permit talk across the tables, but in the" Willow Tea Rooms, the decencies were preserved. Customers were offered scones or sponge fingers and, at lunchtime, scrambled eggs on toast, but nothing ever with a smell- and anyone sitting more than half an hour over a cup of coffee, got coughed at, first by Miss Violet, and if this was ineffectual, by the fiercer Miss Maud.
Yet by the summer of , as the bewildered Austrians joined the refugees from Nazi Germany, the ladies, imperceptibly, had changed. For who could cough at Dr Levy, with his walrus moustache and wise brown eyes, not after he had diagnosed Miss Violet's bursitis - and who could help laughing at Mr Ziller's imitation of himself playing "Dark Eyes" on the violin to an American lady with a faulty hearing aid? Ruth was coming, she was going to study here; soon her boyfriend, a brilliant concert pianist, would follow.
The change in Mrs Berger since then had shaken even the General's daughters, used as they were to stones of loss and grief. Leonie entered the cafe, navigated to the chair which Paul Ziller drew out for her, nodded at the actor from the Vienna Burg Theatre in the corner, at old Mrs Weiss in her feathered toque, at an English lady with a poodle… Dr Levy put down his book on The Diseases of the Knee which he had understood intimately twenty years ago, but which came less trippingly in English from the tongue of a middle-aged heart specialist who'd had no breakfast.
The actor from the Burg Theatre - a fair- haired, alarmingly handsome man exiled for politics not race - said many people were escaping through Portugal, a fact confirmed by the couple from Hamburg at a corner table. Paul Ziller said nothing, only patted Leonie's hand. Lonely beyond belief without the three men with whom he had made music for a decade, he was remembering the comical, blonde child who had climbed out of her cot the first time the quartet had played for Professor Berger's birthday and come stamping down the corridor in a nightdress and nappies, refusing absolutely to be returned to bed.
Mrs Weiss, her auburn wig askew under her hat, now launched into an incoherent story involving a missing girl who had turned up unexpectedly on a milk train to Dieppe.
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The scourge of the Willow Tea Rooms, she was seventy-two years old and had been rescued by her prosperous lawyer son from the village in East Prussia where she had lived all her life. The lawyer now owned a mock Tudor mansion in Hampstead Garden Suburb, a fishpond, and an English wife who deposited her dreadful mother-in-law each morning in the cafe with a fistful of conscience money.
The words 'I buy you a cake? When she had finished, the English lady, who for a year had refused to speak across the tables, said that if Leonie really was an Aquarian, the stars in the Daily Telegraph that morning had been entirely favourable. But when Professor Berger came in, weary from his long walk up the hill, and then Uncle Mishak, it was clear that the stars in the the Telegraph had not prevailed. And Leonie said, yes, and thank you, and remembered to ask about the wedding of Mrs Burtt's niece, and the cat which had had kittens in an unsuitable linen basket in the ladies' flat above the shop.
Then Professor Berger picked up his manuscript on The Mammals of the Pleistocene and went with Dr Levy to the public library, and Paul Ziller went to play Bach partitas among the wash basins and lockers of the Day Centre, and the actor who had declaimed Schiller from Europe's most prestigious stage made his way to the casting offices in Wardour Street to see if someone would let him say Schweinehund in a film about wicked German soldiers in the Great War.
And Leonie nodded and accompanied the old lady out into the street and into the shop of the nearby butcher with whom Mrs Weiss did daily battle - for helping Mrs Weiss to procure the delicate veal suitable for frying and thus confound her daughter-in-law was so time-consuming and so tiresome that it had - oh, surely - to be classed as Being Good. Until the long day was done at last and Hilda returned with a hole in her skirt where she had caught it in Mrs Manfred's carpet sweeper, and Uncle Mishak changed into his pyjamas in his cupboard of a room and said, 'Good night, Marianne,' as he had said every night for eighteen years and not stopped saying when she died.
And Leonie and her husband climbed into their lumpy bed, and held each other in their arms - and did not sleep. But in the flat above the Willow Tea Rooms, a light still burned. Not… strudels? I'm sure Father would not have wished us to serve anything like that. That would be going too far. But there's one they all talk about. It begins with a G. Sounds like guggle… Guglhupf or something. There is no question of anything being bought in. But I did just glance at the recipe when I was in the library,' said Miss Maud, blushing like someone admitting to a peep at a pornographic magazine.
That early summer evening when Ruth was lost in Europe and the first air-raid sirens were tried out in Windsor Castle, the ladies of the Willow Tea Rooms let compassion override principle. The Franz Joseph Station, at two in the afternoon, was relatively quiet. Only local trains left from platform seven. Here there were none of the tragic scenes of parting; weeping parents, children with labels on their coats being sent to safety abroad.
The wooden third-class carriages were filled with peasant women carrying bundles and babies, or chickens in coops. She had found an old rucksack in one of her father's cupboards and repacked her few belongings. With her unruly Rapunzel hair straight-jacketed into two pigtails, she looked about sixteen years old and seemed to be in excellent spirits. Only you shouldn't have given me so much money. Ruth had spent two nights at the museum; no one had given her away, not the cleaning lady, not the night watchman, and Quin, relieved that his task was nearly done, smiled at her with avuncular kindness.
On Mozart's head, I swear it. The self-important engine emitted clouds of steam, and under cover of the noise, Ruth leant over to speak into his ear. In less than a month, I hope. I know exactly what to do. A last door slammed - and Ruth's face came out of the steam, radiant and self-assured.
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The Morning Gift
Anna Diary of an Eccentric says:. Alex says:. Jenny says:. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Enter your comment here Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:. Email required Address never made public. Name required. Contact Us! She knew what she was writing about. Furthermore, you feel it that it was her world once and that she long for it.
I love her Vienna and all her characters. I would want to now them in the real life. I should probably add that most of the book took place in England, but Vienna is always in the air and in hearts Ibbotson had intended to be a physiologist, but was put off by the amount of animal testing that she would have to do. She loved nature. It isn't some cliche. She really did. You can see it clearly in this novel and more deeply in A Song for Summer.
The nature, its beauty and eternity flowed through the pages. And the air moved too - how it moved! You didn't need to breathe, it breathed itself" I didn't know, she thought. I didn't imagine that anything could be like this, could make one feel so… purged… so clean… so alone and unimportant and yet so totally oneself Likewise the music. It also flowed through the book. Nature and music were a great love of Ibbotson. I can't stop thinking about all these people who had to leave their homes, their lives and move to the foreign country.
I know, in comparison to others who were less fortunate, they at least lived. But we know what war does to people who doesn't start it and doesn't want it at all. Although the historical background and some personal tragedies in the book are sad it isn't a sad book. There is a happy ending, all main characters survived the war. There is humor, you will smile some times and you will feel many times a warm touch in your heart.
Because I can. I have to concentrate, but it's possible" ;- I think, no, I am sure that Eve Ibbotson was a very wise woman with a good heart and a deep understanding of human nature. Her books those classified as for young-adult have something from fairy tales.
Her storytelling is original, beautiful, enchanting. It would grip your heart and to the end would not let go. I think that one must read her book to understand it. I can't compare Ibbotson to someone else. And as I said, she had very important things to tell us. For example: One must not judge other cultures by the standards of one's own He meant that the dead must be allowed to move about freely inside us, they musn't be encapsulated, made finite by their prejudices Pilly said about Ruth: "She made life… big for me" I can tell the same about this book and their characters.
And perhaps each of one will find some day his own Willow Tea Rooms. I would like it very, very much. PS If you love a sweet, true love story you will like it. If you love nature you will like it. If you love music classic music you will like it. If you love stories about families, relationships which are so strong that would endure everything you will like it. If you believe in the good in people you will like it.
If you love science, especially paleontology you will like it. There are many, many more reasons why you will like this book. And when you read it and fall in love you can pick A Song for Summer. View all 3 comments. Feb 03, Rachel McMillan rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites , favourites. I don't know how I missed this one. Because I have read a lot of Eva Ibbotson. But I missed it and that is lucky for me because I have found it and now I have another book for my keeper shelf and what a book.
This book is hilariously sharp. And while a lot of us read Ibbotson when we were younger because she had just been released as YA and her fairy tales were just the aching sort of thing we would fall into as uber romantic teens who wanted older cultured men and european locales with the righ I don't know how I missed this one. And while a lot of us read Ibbotson when we were younger because she had just been released as YA and her fairy tales were just the aching sort of thing we would fall into as uber romantic teens who wanted older cultured men and european locales with the right fringe of war-time danger , adult Rachel is SO happy she read Morning Gift now because double-entendres are my thing and whipsmart innuendo is my thing and this book proves Ibbotson a master at both.
See, Ibbotson never intended for her books to be categorized as YA and I think this is largely in part of YA not existing when she published the way it does now. So, this is very much an adult romance with a charmingly youthful and beguiling heroine. There is something SO refreshing about Ruth. She is so inquisitive and smart but never precocious-- and she sees the world in such a delightful way.
She is the perfect counterpart to academic Quin Sommerville who navigates a world of fossil and bone and tries to shrug out of his heritage like a sweater Because the characters inhabiting this treasure trove of a laugh out loud confectionary are worthy of the brilliant world Ibbotson creates. First, we sink into the green depths of opulent Vienna at the brink of Hitler.
Even the shadows of the Anschluss cannot stop the beaming sun from highlighting Strauss in the Statdpark or the night time world of the Natural History Museum in Maria-Theresien-Platz, where Ruth, whose partly Jewish parents have already escaped and being left hopelessly alone, has taking up residence.
As in every last Ibbotson book, the author knows her fairytales are only perfectly woven if done so with music, myth and magic to mete what she is embroidering. And so, the luscious world she describes is matched with Ibbotson's over-turned passion for art, for music, for Vienna. For Mozart. Oh yes, the Mozart. The humour in this book draws the reader out of the encroaching pathos and even while Ibbotson's personal experience with refugees and exiles due to her family's own evacuation from Austria during the war. And as in all books, the theme of outsider is most expressly viewed in the delicious personality of her winsome, elvish heroines.
And Ruth is no exception. Too late, Ruth realized where she was heading and looked with horror at her empty glass, experiencing the painful moment when it becomes clear that what has been drunk cannot be undrunk. I also love the Ibbotson take on the Chekhov's gun motif: meaning if she mentions a rucksack in chapter two, say, you better bet that it will come full circle in a moment of love hundreds of pages later. If Ruth languidly spending her last hours in Vienna before exile at the Danube, speaks to her uncle's romance borne of a message in a bottle, then the theme of rivers will stream through the slow-moving love story of our heroine So Quin the academic with a title and a grand estate, late of Britain, rescues his old professor's daughter and marries her in paper only to get her out of the country.
He tells her the story of a Morganic marriage: where it is unconsummated and sometimes followed by an act of a gift the morning after the wedding night where the bridegroom gives an expensive gift to his bride, severing the marriage forever. Ruth's imaginative goblet spills over and she is just so in love with the romanticism of this idea and she culls a million momentous references to myths and legends and is so darling about the whole thing.
So Quin and Ruth marry, steal away from Austria to England and her awaiting already- fled family aboard the Orient Express and seem to be rid of each other until their annulment papers can be sent. Turns out Ruth is pursuing a british education and Quin is her professor and it gets even more fun! There are several Goodreads reviews that cite this as a poor example of "instalove" where the hero and heroine find happiness within the latter third of the book and it is not developed. The careful reader will see the knowing winks from the author pairing them together.
We have figured out their love, they are just catching up and it is slow and agonizing and dotted with misunderstandings and stupidity as is love in general and the clumsy waltz they take around each other from the classroom to Quin's family summer home in Bowmont is achingly funny and wonderful and heart-wrenching. Ruth is so charming. Her worry over not having her post-coital tristesse she has read too many dirty french novels , her propensity to talk to sheep.
Quin is so determined not to be in love that its web around him is just the most deliciously wonderful thing. I snorted. I giggled. I chortled. The more he tries not to actively notice her, the more she becomes a part of him: Nevertheless, Nature had not shaped Ruth for nonexistence Ruth leaning over the parapet to feed the ducks was not nonexistent, nor encountered in the library behind a pile of books, a piece of grass between her teeth.
She was not nonexistent as she sat under the walnut tree coaching Pilly, nor emerging, drunk with music, from rehearsals of the choir. In turn, Ruth's tide is pulled in by Quin but she is so engaged in the new experiences around her that she doesn't have the same slow recognition of his effect. She also, because she is young and impressionably romantic, believes she is destined for Heini, her stupid cousin who is an insufferable archetype of every insufferable suffer-for-my-art musician to ever live. And this roundabout dance of two people who thought they would never see each other again always, always within feet of each other as their attraction grows, is just the sweetest thing on the planet.
Quin made a sacrifice rescuing her, giving her his name, but we just do not see how tantamount that is until we see a Quin reconciling with the fact that she might not ever truly be his. And Ruth The Morganic marriage motif comes to a shattering conclusion and I cried through Ruth's mistaken heartbreak. Quin, encountering that rare phenomenon, a person who read footnotes, was ready to be impressed.
Ruth and Quin are two of the most delightfully funny and decadent and unique and esoteric and quirky and challenging characters I have encountered in a book in AGES! I love them! I love their blind love for each other and how they frustrate each other and how they are so passionate about each other even as they mask it by quoting classics at inopportune times. I love that his heart wrenches when she almost drowns rescuing a puppy so he yells at her something fierce and I love that she runs to him after a botched night with Heini so they can finally get around to consummating their own love.
I love that while the shadow of Hitler falls in pitch-perfect research it never detracts from the life and passion around! It makes me think of a photography exhibit that my friend and I went to a few years ago. Photographs from the Lodz Ghetto: tragic circumstances but captured humanity: women getting married, children playing. We sometimes have the propensity to see the Second World War through a grainy sepia film of docudrama.
We need books that show what thrived even as it crept like its Leviathan and Ibbotson infuses her personal experiences into a book about love. Love for music, for love itself, for romance and Mozart and Vienna. When the angels sing for God they sing Bach, but when they sing for pleasure they sing Mozart, and God eavesdrops. Quin and Ruth are an unlikely pairing in an unlikely magic moment of a book that begs to be read within an inch of its life. The humour is to die for! The love story just the right amount of melodrama to whisk you away and remind you that hot cocoa and blankets pair well with things that are imagined and need not accompany realism.
I friggin LOVE this book. And will read it to infinity I left it until last as it was the longest Of the lot I have here, counting only these prettily packaged older-YA-Picadors, it just edges out A Company of Swans to be my favourite. All up, I give first place to Journey to the River Sea - but that's of the younger set than these lovely, frothy romances. After reading a lot of Eva Ibbotson, one does begin to notice that her books are very similar Her heroines are all quite similar to one another - but this is not a bad thing. Her formula is a tried and true one, each story as delightful as the last!
It doesn't matter that one girl is reminiscent of another. In fact, it adds to the joy a little. Or at least I find that to be so. Ruth is beautiful, independent, intelligent, talented, and talks a lot. Talking a lot seems to be a thing with a lot of Eva Ibbotson's girls. They will ramble off in the most delightful of tangents when telling a story, and always come up with the most random thoughts, analogies and examples that the person to whom they are talking knows absolutely NOTHING of.
Her girls seem to always forget that not everyone else is in their head, following their thought pattern, remembering their memories. One of the most delightful quotes from all her books has to be this one, from Ruth to Frances: "Would you like me to stop talking? I have to concentrate, but it's possible. Toad" - having recently read The Wind in the Willows myself that was a fun gem!
And having seen the film The King's Speech, I was also able to fully appreciate "the shy king and his stammer". And "She wants to be alone. I loved the setting, the time and place - how modern it suddenly felt compared to the last couple I've read. That really was where a lot of refugees ended up. Incidentally, I left the book with that friend - I finished it while at her place and while I adored it, it was too heavy for me to want to cart around all day and then bring back to Swansea again.
I hope she likes it, and I do have the option of telling her I'll pick it up next time I'm in London anyway, if I decide I need to keep it and take it back home with me. I love how I didn't have to worry about the puppy which was almost lost at sea - just as you know that Quin and Ruth are going to fall in love and thwart their carefully made plans, you also KNOW that Eva Ibbotson would never dare to kill a puppy! You also KNOW that when he buys the emeralds and you know they will be emeralds before he does, because of the glass on the beach that she is going to assume it's her Morgengabe and thus the major Conflict of the novel will be stirred into motion.
That's another thing that is very reliable about Eva Ibbotson. She is consistent with miscommunications between her characters, but she is also consistent with these never lasting for too long. This one in fact went on for perhaps the longest, yet it was still short compared to some other books! By the way, I love the sound of the word Schmarrn. Also, I wonder how much of this book was autobiographical - perhaps a fictionalised account of part of Eva Ibbotson's own life? After all, her family also fled Vienna for London when the Nazis came to power.
And she studied animal physiology at university, so I daresay a lot of the science mentioned in this book was from her own, actual field of interest. It was amazing how the examination experience described was exactly like our uni exams, 60 years on. The invigilators, the being escorted to the bathroom There were SO many characters in this book, and they were all so vividly described. I loved Mrs. Weiss and her dangerous hook, "I buy you a cake? This was also the second book to mention mangelwurzels. I feel I must google them now. I really loved how Eva Ibbotson tricked me as well So you assume that you were wrong, that she DID sail and now she has to somehow be fetched home, or found by Quin while abroad.
And then it turns out she didn't sail, but no one knows except for Heini, obviously! I loved that little twist, I fell for it so smoothly. I love how she and Frances connected so nicely as well. And Uncle Mishak. The story is just so well-rounded for all, so beautifully done. The ending, with Paul Ziller and his new quartet, and the ghost of Biberstein playing along The only slight complaint I might have is that the dreadful Verena is not mentioned in the epilogue.
We are told before that she is to marry poor Kenneth, but I would have liked a bit of a follow-up. I was sad that Huw died, but it was a realistic addition to the round-up. This book was not only froth and romance and mistakes in communication. There was Hitler, there was Biberstein's death, there was having to flee the Nazis, Berger losing his position, the house being vandalised, being poor refugees in London, Heini being in a camp though at least not one like Oranienburg or Dachau, as Ruth had imagined! Writing this has made me want to read the book again now! I think I'll have to fetch it back from Manu one day, after all Lastly, this is lovely: When angels sing for God they sing Bach, but when they sing for pleasure they sing Mozart, and God eavesdrops.
Feb 10, Ruth rated it it was amazing Shelves: books-read-in How am I just now reading Ibbotson? Her writing sparkles with humor and romance and generous dash of fairytale dust that makes it impossible not to believe in true love and happy endings. For although her characters may be bruised by the horror of the Nazi menace, they remain unbroken, their spirit indomitable. For within Ibbotson's world colored by her ow How am I just now reading Ibbotson? For within Ibbotson's world colored by her own experiences fleeing Hitler and growing up displaced , love -- both familial and romantic -- triumphs.
Ibbotson has a wildly intelligent voice and a sly sense of humor that finds no subject relative to the heart and its passions off-limits. This is an unabashedly feeling book, with moments of laugh-out-loud humor liberally sprinkled throughout, relieving the moments of heartbreaking pathos. Reading this book was the literary equivalent of watching the film Cluny Brown. Ruth good name, no? And herein Ibbotson works her magic, for this is the rare tale that reclaims the marriage of convenience trope for me and makes it feel fresh and new and funny.
While this is Ruth and Quin's tale and Quin is the dishiest of heroes, an academic with an Indiana Jones-like flair! I adore Ruth and Quin, but more than that I love that Ibbotson never loses sight of her quirky, colorful supporting players -- and in that sense, this novel is a snapshot of a bygone era on the cusp of change, a reminder that each generation's hope of leaving the world better than they found it is as timeless as the love of a parent for a child, or the unexpected joy of romance between a man and woman, discovered when they least expect it. This is one of the smartest, most engaging -- and hopeful -- romances that I've read in ages.
While I cannot believe this is my first Ibbotson novel, it certainly shall not be my last, and I am quite grateful this book came to me when it did. I had to read this book - even if just for the sole reason that the main character shares my first name! On a more serious note, this book really was a fantastic read. This was a wonderful story about a young girl called Ruth great name btw! Her family have already traveled to London but Ruth comes across various obstacles when trying to leave and family friend Quin has to step in to help her. A visiting professor, Quin is I had to read this book - even if just for the sole reason that the main character shares my first name!
A visiting professor, Quin is acquainted with Ruth's scholarly father and when he sees Ruth in danger, Quin does everything he can to help her leave safely. Which incidentally includes marrying her to obtain a valid passport.
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