Worlds collide in this novel – the romantic, elegant world of Austrian aristocracy and the brutal world of Nazi occupation. The narrator, Reyna von Meinert, is a Viennese girl who grows from childhood into young womanhood as the Third Reich rises and falls. The Meinert family’s best friends and neighbors are the Rombergs, residents of the Water Castle: Eugene, a wealthy, generous, Jewish dairy owner who is in love with Reyna’s mother; Resi, Eugene’s sensual, Catholic, actress-singer wife, who is passionately attracted to Reyna’s father; and Eli, their sickly son, Reyna’s playmate. Reyna’s father contrives to protect them all, but Eugene and Eli are eventually forced to flee. As the world around her becomes more and more bizarre, Reyna consorts with all kinds of strange characters – including an enigmatic dwarf named Hanna Roth, soothsayer to Hitler. In the end, Reyna, and her countess grandmother – who lives in a dream world of the glorious past – must face the marauding Russian troops who represent the new reality.
The Water Castle has an exotic assemblage of characters and a youthful narrator whose voice mimics grotesqueries and illusion so faithfully that a terrible reality emerges...It's language is, by turn, as lurid and somber as its event. It is faithful to human tenacity and betrayal.
The Boston Globe
She transcends pedestrian historical fiction and eschews simplification about the holocaust and its prelude. This is an engrossing story of people in radical transition, and, specifically, about a girl tough enough to thrive in the confusion, like a brillian amoral animal, with all her sense intact.
New York Times Book Review
Vienna Girl, a story of young hope during a time of despair is a unique family novel, an experience on many different levels, and rich in contrasting flavors as a Viennese feast. It is a dramatic novel depicting the beginning of the Hitler heritage – a time of invasion and occupation – which has not ended.
Fifteen-year-old Reyna and her grandmother are hiding in dark cellar rooms of a dilapidated little baroque castle during the Russian invasion of Vienna. Often she feels like crying, what have we ever done? We’re innocent. But how guilty was innocence after Hitler? How innocent guilt? The Second World War ended in conflict and world peace was lost. Reyna, powerfully self-amused, faces the mess men on the rampage have made of her city. Family and friends slowly find each other as Vienna is divided. For the first time in history bewildered and bewildering young soldiers of four nations come to share the occupation of one great city. Loves, old and new, imagined and real, characters, dead or disguised, or dangerous revolve around Reyna defining and redefining each other as in a mirrored kaleidoscope that reveals patterns of events and history. And all the hide and seek in the story – lost crowns, treasures, villains, loves – is in the end, the endless search for lost values. If Vienna – as someone said – is a state of mind, Vienna Girl depicts this state of mind as a city of dreams which cannot be conquered.
Vienna Girl (her second novel) describes a world in which old myths have been literally exploded and new ones are yet to take their place. Events and characters are developed through continual ironies and reversals that undercut any interpretation that might begin to seem tenable. These convolutions describe a miasmic interconnectedness in events and ideas, which has a terrible feeling of truth about it. History is itself a narrative, and everything depends on who does the telling.
Marilynne Robinson, New York Times Book Review
In Vienna Girl, the adolescent, at war's end in Vienna, is beleaguered by enigmas of the past trailing clues into the present, and she attempts – afire with her own untried passions – to find her way through mirror mazes of deceit and masquerades, as Nazi-era dragons, witches and princes turn ordinary...a fully fleshed, stinging probe of humanity's propensity to remember to forget the crimes and the fateful, doomed seductions of the past.
No one in Shoreland knows that Liz Plant had been one of the two hundred and fifty thousand young children stolen in occupied countries, part of the Himmler plan for nazification of a select breed of "racially valuable blondes." In 1986 Liz is finally writing about her Hitler School and her escape as the mascot of a troop of elite children. But facts are not enough. In her heart she would always remain a child on the side of a dusty road waving to strangers. A stolen child. She is probing for the truth.
In Hitler School she had to forget her first language and her name and became Liese. In Vienna, after the war, nuns in the children's shelter called her little Angel. She turned into Liz, when American Gramp acquired her for his lonely orphan grandson, Chris. She was told to forget German and speak only English. Chris sometimes called her Sis after his dead twin. They became inseparable as they grew up in Shoreland, but Gramp did not live to see them marry. He left Liz the old house by the sea; Chris inherited almost all the money; and Mike, their son, inherited the Plant good looks and a gift as a prankster.
She had been lucky, very lucky. Why not leave well enough alone? Chris is enraged when she writes about him. Could writing to find out who she really is be asking for trouble? Mike is at risk. Chapters vanish. Arthur, a helper, intrudes on the landscape of her life as his great house intrudes on the panorama of Shoreland. Mike is assaulted on campus. The violence of the past seems to be catching up with the writer. So does the future when her book comes out. An amazing interview. An escape from Arthur's great news. Mike and his friends have a ticket for her to the Grateful Dead concert. Once more she is swept into a scene teeming with endangered kids in flight from the adult world.