The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

“Viennese Jewess, 19, seeks position as domestic servant.  Speaks fluid English.  I will cook your goose.”

So reads the “Refugee Advertisement” Elise Landau places in British newspapers.  It draws a response from the Rivers family and Elise accepts a position as a servant at Tyneford House, even though looking back she recalls “When I received the letter that brought me to Tyneford, I knew nothing about England, except that I wouldn’t like it.”

Thus ends Elise’s life as the cosseted daughter of a famous and artistic family; her mother is a renowned opera singer and her father a critically acclaimed (except by Hitler’s government, which despises him) novelist.  Her parents hope to get a visa to America, but in the meantime they do everything in their power to get Elise out of Austria.

Once in England, Elise struggles to find her place.  She’s gone from being waited on by servants to waiting on others.  No more sleeping in and waking to a steaming cup of hot chocolate and freshly laundered clothes.  Now she’s up at dawn, preparing fires, cleaning, and generally trying to look as busy as possible.  She realizes that sauntering through the day is a mark of privilege and she misses it.

But most of all she misses her family.  The House at Tyneford is the story of someone who sees her world disappear overnight and struggles to create a new life in a strange place that is itself changing rapidly.  I found Elise very sympathetic and her efforts to fit in engrossing.  The descriptions of Vienna and Tyneford are so vivid I found myself longing for a cup of Viennese coffee and inhaling with gusto the salt air of the English coast.

With its atmospheric writing and bittersweet portrait of a young girl doing her best to adjust as a world fragments around her I recommend this book to anyone, particularly readers of historical fiction, fans of novelist Kate Morton and devotees of the PBS series Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey.

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