Sebastian is the second novel of a trilogy about central and Eastern Europe during the first half of the last century. It is 1913 in Vienna, the capital of the diverse Austro-Hungarian Empire. The main character of the title is sixteen and is about to have his leg amputated because of an accident. The book mainly follows his misfortunes and how he copes with them: the amputation, World War One, a family shop to run in increasingly stringent circumstances when his father goes to fight. He is aided and hindered by friends and relatives through the deprivations and uncertainties of the war. A second storyline develops around Margit and her mother Piroska, who journey to Austro-Hungarian Galicia.
As in the trilogy’s first book, The Luck of The Weissensteiners, the author’s considerable research shows in settings and attitudes which are described in detail and which feel authentic. Sometimes, however, there is too much background; the book at times felt like a history text. Sebastian has a large cast of characters who enable the author to explore a wide range of social, religious and ethnic issues but there was occasionally too much to take in.
As constructive criticism, I thought the cover could have been more inspiring to a potential reader’s eye, and the internal layout could be improved. The text is not adequately centred against the page edges when the book is opened fully, and the title and dedication pages are displaced to the right, which jars visually as soon as the book is opened. A few minor errors in the first few pages would be picked up by a further copy-edit, but these were not enough to make me stop reading.
Nevertheless this is a story worth digesting, but like a rich Viennese Sachertorte: one slice at a time.