A book review for parents
This historical suspense book is the first in the "Zion Covenant" series by Bodie Thoene and is published by Tyndale House Publishers.
Vienna Prelude is written for people who are 17 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
In 1936, beautiful, blonde, but half-Jewish violinist Elisa Lindheim uses the alias Linder to pass as Aryan. Elisa refuses to accept the truth of Hitler's aggression and coming takeover of Austria. She is caught up in a tangle of the heart as she realizes she no longer loves Thomas, a German officer who deserted her, but is falling in love with Murphy, an American journalist. Murphy covers his true feelings with a business offer of marriage to give Elisa the protection of an American passport. Elisa sends Murphy a note refusing him. That same night, violinist Rudy is killed and Elisa learns that his outward show of gambling and womanizing covered up his true work in helping Jewish children escape to Palestine. Before dying, Rudy tells Elisa that her father, Theo, is in Dachua, a concentration camp. Elisa finally accepts the truth of the evil surrounding her and the Jewish people in Eastern Europe and joins with others to help the children. She then bargains with Murphy, who had suggested they marry, so she can have the protection of an American passport. Elisa and Murphy hide their true feelings of love from one another. Meanwhile, Theo, suffering from typhoid and mistaken for an Austrian professor, is brought to a hospital in Vienna where he escapes. Murphy finds Theo on the streets, nearly frozen and emaciated; Murphy, Theo, and Elisa then flee across the border to Czechoslovakia. A subplot involves Elisa's close musician friends, Leah and Shimon, who are part of the team helping the children and who finally get passports to leave Austria, but may not have time to escape. Murphy has ties to England and Churchill. At this point in history, Churchill has been ousted from the British government but understands the evil of Hitler while England, France and America acquiesce to the Fuhrer's wicked demands. Thomas and others within the German army attempt to stop Hitler as he continues to rise to power, eliminate Jews and plunge Europe into the darkness of evil.
Theo and his wife, Anna, are Christians. Theo prays for strength in Dachua and guidance as he escapes. Anna holds onto her faith in God and trusts that God will work things out. Elisa prays through the use of her music and also cries out to God as she views how the world turned upside down and evil has become good in the eyes of Germans. Murphy never speaks about his faith, but shows it in his actions. He gives Elisa a wedding ring engraved with Song of Songs 5:16. Theo and a Jewish professor debate the words of Faust and the eternal fate of the Germans who have sold their souls to the devil. The Wattenbarger family consists of strong Christians who help Elisa's family. They pretended to be on vacation in the Tyrolean Alps as part of their escape from Berlin. The Wattenbargers celebrate Christmas and strongly believe God chose them to help Jewish children escape. They confront their eldest son, Otto, when he chooses to become a Nazi. Otto turns his back on his family and faith and moves to Vienna.
Murphy is an authority figure to Elisa. She doesn't want to hear the truth about Hitler and Vienna's coming demise, but she knows in her heart that he is right. Hitler is an evil leader who cleverly persuades men and the masses to follow him and believe his lies. Marta and Karl Wattenbarger are strong heads of their family and wisely advise their children and Elisa about love, hope, and choosing truth over safety.
Other Belief Systems
The Jewish faith is shown in Dachua as the men celebrate Hanukkah. Hitler twists the Christian faith and declares that Jesus and Mary were not Jews. German soldiers wear belt buckles inscribed with "God is with us" while they rape women, abuse Jews and mock Christianity.
In Prague, rising Gestapo soldier Sporer shoots a traitor in the belly and pushes him over a bridge into the Moldau River. On a train to Austria from Berlin, German soldiers search Theo and Elisa, toss her suitcase of lingerie on the floor, arrest him, take him off the train and return him to Berlin. Theo holds a gun in his home and contemplates suicide. German soldiers break into the home of Grynspan, the tailor who works for Theo, and beat the man, break two of his ribs and bash in his left eye. Brothers Otto and Franz Wattenbarger fight. At the concert hall, a madman fires shots at Rudy as he starts to play his violin. Elisa is called to Rudy's death scene where she sees him after two German soldiers have shot him, cut off two of his fingers, broken his teeth and beaten him. A Synogogue is covered in red paint with words of hatred toward Jews, a statue has two fingers cut off it and is covered with red paint, and a gang of 200 young men attempt to rape Elisa. Sporer is the one evil face she sees before Otto stops the men.
In Dachua, soldiers whip the prisoners, force them into hard labor, nearly starve them and cram them into unheated buildings. They shoot any prisoner who falls sick with Typhoid or drops from exhaustion. Elisa sees the outside of Dachua, hears machine gun fire and later vomits at the memory. Murphy reports on the war in Spain, including the German bombs and the hospitals filled with the foul smells of rotting bodies. In Dachua, as prisoners throng to get fresh bread, Theo falls and the men trample him. Theo watches his blind professor friend and inmate accidentally walk toward the fence and get shot. In the hospital in Vienna, as part of his escape, Theo attacks an orderly by slamming his metal dinner tray over the man's head. Young kids jeer, spit and shove Theo on the streets of Vienna. Elisa, on the train with children who have escaped, witnesses soldiers taking a woman off the train to strip-search her. Elisa dreams of Jewish children being burned and flesh melting off their bones. At the Czech border, Elisa watches Sporer tear off a Jewish woman's clothes and search her for hidden jewels, before kicking the woman's child.
Franz Wattenbarger helps birth a calf in breech position as he probes inside the womb. It's described in detail and is related to women giving birth. Germans make a law against marriage (Nuremberg laws) between Aryans and Jews, but overlook soldiers raping Jewish women. Franz kisses Elisa once in a tender moment. Elisa admits to Leah that she and Thomas were lovers before Hitler rose to power. Elisa refuses to get a room with Thomas or be sexually involved when they meet again. A German soldier escorts Elisa to a beer hall, shows his desire for her, kisses her hard on the mouth and kisses her hand. Murphy restrains himself as he desires Elisa. Murphy and Elisa kiss passionately at a Turkish café and again at their wedding ceremony.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Who have you heard twisting the truth to use to his or her advantage?
What arguments do people use to make choices that hurt other people or go against the Ten Commandments?
- In this story, why is it or isn't it okay for adults to use deceit to save children?
Why is it or isn't it wrong for Elisa to marry Murphy to get an American passport?
Why is it or isn't it a good decision for Admiral Canaris, Theo's old friend, to pretend to follow Hitler to help thwart plans from the inside?
- What causes Elisa to realize that she loves Murphy and not Thomas?
How does a person's actions show love more than his or her words?
Why do Murphy and Elisa have trouble revealing their true feelings for one another?
- How does the indifference of people and countries fuel Hitler's evil plans?
How are you indifferent or complacent about evil around you?
In what way does your world seem upside down where evil is called good and good labeled evil?
- Have you ever felt like Elisa when she prayed for God about the evil around her?
What did Elisa question?
Does God allow evil to take place?
Why would he do that?
Have you ever, like Theo, called out to God for guidance?
If so, what happened?
- How did Theo become a shining light for God?
How were his worldly hopes holding him back?
- What did Marta believe regarding God and his children?
Why can we always turn to Him for comfort even in our hardest times?
- If you had to flee your home, what few items would you take?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.