An epistolary novel that strikingly reconstructs the last year of young bride Barbara Schretter and Vienna's ""finest hour,"" its resistance to the 1683 Turkish siege. Through Barbara's dutiful letters to her mother and confidences to childhood friend Thresl, we see her complaints about her ""matrimonial duties"" ease and her appreciation of older, considerate Jacob grow; through his correspondence with a clerical friend we learn of his reticent love for Barbara and his longing for a child--but we are privy also to the workings of an acutely intelligent, uncommonly skeptical mind. And from all of them we get a sense of the social/cultural/political milieu and gather, not only that the Turks are coming, but that the ineffectual Emperor isn't going to do anything to stop them. Barbara, now in early pregnancy, meets a young Italian cavalier--whose letters we are vouchsafed too--and has a brief, torrid romance; the unfortunate Thresl, also pregnant but unmarried, is circumstantially pegged for a witch and imprisoned; and Jacob staunchly resolves to stay in Vienna and face the Turkish onslaught--which he records with a terseness and forthrightness, absent from his earlier formal communications, that makes for vivid reportage. Each of them, however, has a characteristic mode of expression: not the least of the virtues of this admirable book is its success in dramatizing personalities and thereby presenting events from their various points of view. At the list Barbara dies in childbirth, as we've known from the introductory note that she will; but Jacob's quiet grief is only the more affecting for a year's acquaintance with this sensible, stoical man. The book is an insidious, historically authentic tour de force that will reach, one hopes, beyond the obvious ""special"" readership.