The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Monday, January 20, 2014

CLARA by Kurt Palka

Clara by Kurt PalkaGenre:  Historical Fiction
Publisher:  Emblem Editions
Expected Release Date:  March 25, 2014
Pages:  384

About the Book:  Clara Herzog is a privileged, intelligent, and thoughtful young woman whose world is changed forever when 1930s Vienna is swept up by the dark prelude of the Second World War. The cavalry officer she married in spite of her family's objections is soon called away to the thick of the conflict, and it falls to Clara, as to so many mothers, wives, sisters, and sweethearts through the centuries, to stay at home to provide and protect.

Through the war, its aftermath, and into the present, Clara must make choices and take risks that are as heroic and life-altering as any that men make in battle. She is an unforgettable character, and this is an unforgettable novel about family bonds and women's deep friendships, about courage and the love that can endure even in unimaginable times.

Wanda's Thoughts:  Goodreads - first reads winner

Although fiction, Clara was inspired by documented and recorded events. The story begins in the 1930's as Vienna is anticipating World War ll.

Clara Herzog was a student at Vienna University in 1931. Clara's ambition was to be a writer and a teacher and perhaps a literary translator - a portable career that would allow her to have a family. It was during this time that she met Albert Leonhardt. Clara's entire family disapproved of Albert from the beginning. Her father, whose love for Clara was the purest certainty in her life, disliked Albert. Her brother, Peter, encouraged her to drop Albert and concentrate on her studies and get a good education. He told her she would regret being involved with Albert. But Clara insisted that Albert was a good man and that she loved him.

Albert's military career in Austria was in ruins and he was at a low point in his life. Days were different now than what they'd been in early Vienna. He was dismissed from the Austrian cavalry and eventually trains horses. Albert and Clara planned to marry when she got her doctorate and had her own career. Her parents did not take the engagement well - and the story unfolds. 

Cecilia, definitely my favorite character, was an admirable woman who displayed strength and courage. Cecilia was Albert's mother, and because of circumstances that unfold, she becomes the main breadwinner of the family. Her apartment in Vienna was always filled with music - she coached singers. Cecilia added a lot to the storyline - a very strong character. 

Clara and Albert have two daughters. Willa - never married and a bit on the wild side, like her father. Emma - the youngest daughter, was rather gentle and the studious one. I never felt connected to either of these characters.

There were many interesting historical details included in the storyline, and some achingly sad moments - the horrible realization of what happened at that time. For the most part the characters were likable and were struggling to cope with the difficult realities of grief and wartime. My quibble with the book was that the storyline moved too slowly and it diminished my enjoyment. The descriptive writing was beautiful, but it certainly slowed me down. My rating - 3 stars.
The Author:
Kurt Palka
KURT PALKA was born and educated in Austria. He began his working life in Africa where he wrote for African Mirror and made wildlife films in Kenya and Tanzania. After moving to Canada he worked on international stories for CTV and GLOBAL TV, wrote for American and Canadian publications such as theChronicle Herald and the Globe and Mail, and worked as a Senior Producer for the CBC. Clara (originally published in hardcover as Patient Number 7) is his fifth novel; it is a finalist for the Hammett Prize.