Clara Herzog is a privileged, intelligent, and thoughtful young woman whose world is changed forever when 1930s Vienna is swept up by the dark prelude of the Second World War. The cavalry officer she married in spite of her family's objections is soon called away to the thick of the conflict, and it falls to Clara, as to so many mothers, wives, sisters, and sweethearts through the centuries, to stay at home to provide and protect.
Through the war, its aftermath, and into the present, Clara must make choices and take risks that are as heroic and life-altering as any that men make in battle. She is an unforgettable character, and this is an unforgettable novel about family bonds and women's deep friendships, about courage and the love that can endure even in unimaginable times.
1. Does the fact that this novel is inspired by true events make any difference to your connection to the story? To the individual characters? Why or why not?
2. Very early in the novel, we read of the older Clara: “Writing had always saved her. It would do so again.” (p. 6) In what ways has writing...
—Booklist (starred review)
"Compelling . . . provides a discerning look at the Viennese and how they coped during the volatile periods during the 1930s, '40s - and post-war years. . . . Palka's book contains wisdom and elegance. He is a literary tour guide taking us into a post-Habsburg culture we could not access on our own."
—The Toronto Star
“With great sensitivity, Palka tells Clara's story, building sympathy and admiration for the strength, courage, unwavering love and compassion she demonstrates in the face of unbelievable challenges. This deeply engrossing and unforgettable novel will leave readers shouting "bravo" for the resiliency of the human spirit.”
– Publishers Weekly
"In much the same way as Carol Shields did for Daisy Goodwill Flett in The Stone Diaries, Kurt Palka gives dignity to a life lived in his creation of Clara Herzog. . . . As do John Wray's The Right Hand of Sleep and Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone, it provokes questions about what we would have done if we had lived during the Third Reich. . . . Deals with some of the big themes in literature. But its lasting impression is that of a woman whose life mattered."
—Winnipeg Free Press