A multilayered novel tracking the evolution of a lavishly wealthy Jewish banking family in the years preceding and during World War II.
The House of Goldbaum—a banking institution stretching across Europe—has financed railways and palaces and abetted world leaders; its influence is so ingrained that “on dull days, it was said, they hired the sun, just for themselves.” The business maintains its dominance by adhering to the old ways: communicating almost exclusively through letters written in Yiddish; prioritizing its Jewish heritage; and, most importantly, orchestrating marriages between Goldbaum houses to keep the businesses tightly linked. It’s this custom that spurs the marriage of headstrong Greta Goldbaum, from the Austrian house, to the second son of the London branch, buttoned-up, fastidious Albert. From the start, it’s an uneasy match. Greta wanders through the London Goldbaum mansion “perpetually off-kilter,” while Albert exhibits a greater interest in trapping butterfly specimens than in sleeping with his new wife. Meanwhile, rumblings of war affect business. The German government is seeking a loan to shore up its army; pogroms rage across Russia; and the Goldbaums vacillate between openly wielding political influence and “labor[ing] unobtrusively behind the seat of power, instrumental but overlooked.” It seems just as Greta and Albert learn to tolerate and then love one another, the Continent is forced into an arms race, compelling the Goldbaum houses to weigh allegiances to family and nation—and consider the waning scope of their influence in a world altered by war. In perspectives that alternate among Greta, Albert, and other well-constructed characters—Greta’s brother Otto; cousin Henri; and Karl, a Viennese sewer rat—Solomons (The Song of Hartgrove Hall, 2015) provides an achingly detailed yet sweeping narrative examining the anxieties of war and crumbling of the Old World order. Despite writing stilted dialogue, Solomons has an uncanny way of lulling readers into a complex sense of prewar unease—from the Goldbaums’ mansion to the Jewish Poor Boys' Home in Vienna—making for a rewarding look into the fragility of power and the complexities of Jewish identity in the early 20th century.
An absorbing saga.