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Night Falls on the City by Sarah Gainham
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Night Falls on the City (1967)

by Sarah Gainham

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"Night Falls on the City" is the first book of a trilogy that takes place in Austria during the years 1938 through 1945. In novels taking place in Europe during World War II, it is common to encounter stories of military conquest and defeat, underground espionage, and the Holocaust of concentration camp atrocities. Very few stories center around the trials and tribulations of other European civilians.

Sarah Gainham (alias Sarah Rachel Stainer Ames) was twenty eight years old when the war started and lived in Great Britain until 1947 when she moved to Austria and married a German correspondent for the “Sunday Times”. She later became a journalist herself and wrote several books. Although she did not experience the war from a Nazi occupied country, she did get to see the immediate after-affects.

"Night Falls on the City" is a realistic tale of the pain, sorrow, and loss suffered by a beautiful and famous Austrian theater actress. She lives through the entire war with her Jewish husband (who is presumed to have escaped the country) secretly hidden in a secluded storage room of her apartment in Vienna. Not exactly an “ordinary” citizen, Julie Homburg uses her celebrity status to survive. She continues to work for the theater throughout the war. To avoid suspicion, she socializes with Nazis and dates an Austrian civil servant. Nevertheless, she endures Nazi interrogations, food shortages, disease, filth, and never ending fear. Of course you know she survives because, after all, this is a trilogy, but the book does not lack suspense.

I had always imagined throughout the war years in every country invaded by the Nazi’s that if you were a law-abiding (non-Jewish) citizen you were relatively safe from persecution. This book presents a whole new perspective. In addition to those of Jewish descent, anyone who was a registered communist or socialist or openly supported an opposing political party and gypsies were immediately rounded up and deported to camps. Anyone who disobeyed a law as minor as avoiding a curfew or appeared in public without proper ID could get shot on sight. Anyone who showed open disrespect for a Nazi in uniform, got caught “looking suspicious”, was on a “wrong” mailing list, or was simply rumored to have done something unpatriotic were exposed to hours of interrogation and often disposed of without much opposition from the general public. The hospitalized old, frail, and mentally ill were almost always sent to camps. Most citizens tried to keep a low profile, avoid suspicion, mind their own business. In fact, the deportations were vastly ignored. If it didn’t directly effect someone personally... it was best to pretend it never even happened. As a result, the average Austrian civilians turned their back on their Jewish neighbors and friends or savagely aided in their persecution. It was every man for himself.

Sarah Gainham’s writing style is mediocre. Sentences sometimes lack logical structure. But after a few chapters, it is easy to become so absorbed in the story that the unpolished sentence form becomes a minor detail. "Night Falls on the City" is a captivating tale of love and hate, good and evil, human strength and weakness, and the hell-on-earth nightmare brutality of war under Nazi domination, and later the Russian occupation. Anyone with an inexhaustible interest in World War II tales would appreciate this book’s descriptive references to obscure wartime scenes such as Julie Homburg’s impression as a famed actress on tour in Poland... the eerie pretense of normalcy and the subtle display of contempt for the German man in uniform. However, from a Jewish standpoint, "Night Falls on the City" barely skims the surface of the evil insanity of the Third Reich. Books two and three of the trilogy are "A Place in the Country", and "Private Worlds." ( )
  LadyLo | Apr 12, 2013 |
From the nazi takeover of 1938 to the 1945 Russian invasion, actress jennie homberg devotes herself to the task of concealing her Jewish husband and sees with bewildered horror the devastation of a beloved city.
  edella | Jul 15, 2009 |
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The unlit auditorium of the huge theatre was a constant presence of authority and grandeur, containing in its looming interior the promise and threat of the evening lights and chatter, of the public who were its loving judges.
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This extraordinary and controversial novel is about Vienna; it centres on the fate of a classical actress, from the Anschluss of 1938 to the Russian invasion of Austria in 1945.

Julia Homburg's husband is a socialist politician, scholar and philosopher; he is also a Jew. The moment the advance agents of the Nazi Terror reach Vienna, the ancient crucible of an ordered and cultured society, the whole framework of his life is smashed: he must flee or hide, change suddenly from a man of position among friends into an outlaw; if caught he will be tortured and killed.

Julia succeeds in hiding him for all of the war years in their Vienna home.

This is the central thread of a story that holds many others; that embraces the destinies of a great cast of characters throughout the long rape of Viennese civilisation and culture. These charters are brilliantly imagined and developed, from Kerenyi, the man of independent mind always close to arrest, to Ruth, the helpless victim of the black madness that overtook Europe.
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Vienna, 1938: a place of high culture, gilded opera houses and intellectual salons. Julia Homberg and her husband Franz Wedeker embody all the enlightened brilliance of their native city. But Wedeker is Jewish and just across the border the tanks of the Nazi Reich are primed for the Anschluss.… (more)

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