The title is explicit in two ways : this book tells us the story of this famous Viennese family and how they got involved in WW2 . It also refers to a domestic war raging among the family members themselves.
It is also the portrait of an era in the first half of the 20th century : living in Vienna in the circle of wealthy families with so many opportunities, where tradition, education, social background, artistic life were so important. While reading , we came across Klimt, Ravel, Benjamin Britten, Prokofiev…
The father, a very strict man , put so much pressure on his sons in order for them to make their own mark in the great steel, arms and banking business that he had founded, that he contributed to a nervous and self-destructive strain on all five of them. Especially Paul, the musician and Ludwig, the famous philosopher developed into hardened individualists.
Let’s focus on those two characters in the family.
Paul was the one character who came out of the lot and we all felt sympathy and admiration for him.
While fighting during the war, he, the pianist, was severely wounded and lost his right arm.
He overcame Fate by sheer artistic heroism. He despised self-pity. This handicap spurred his energy and courage to work up a one-handed technique to play the piano. Each performance was a test of endurance.
He befriended Ravel who composed for him the Piano Concerto N° 1 for the left hand.
« The sounds produced by his left hand do not betray the artist’s melancholy at no longer possessing a right hand, rather, they express his triumph at being able to bear his loss so well. »
His misfortune had turned out to be a stroke of good luck. He got married and had children.
Ludwig was the famous philosopher of logic and language , author of « Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus » (1921).
He studied with Bertrand Russell in Britain and was greatly influenced by Tolstoy’s book « The Gospel in brief », an anti-church abridged version of the four Gospels.
What came out of this book about Ludwig was his ignominy and the fact that his writing was incomprehensible .
However, in Cambridge, « To an ardent group of disciples, Ludwig was God. That they didn’t understand him was a small concern. What mattered to them was to be close to his presence, to be part of his inner circle and to be able to witness the spectacle of his thinking »…..
To conclude, we found this book an interesting read although not uplifting : this family had a dark side.
The lesson came from Gretl, one of the sisters : « Don’t ask life to be easier if you are capable of being strong ».
Anne Van Calster