The Luck of the Weissensteiners

Written by Christoph Fischer
Review by Mark Evans

It is 1933. In the Slovak capital of Bratislava, Greta Weissensteiner is wooed and made pregnant by Wilhelm Winkelmeir. He is German and she is not. She is Jewish and he is not. Nevertheless they marry and so begins a story of Jews and Gentiles, Germans and non-Germans set amongst the upheavals of central Europe in the years up to, and through, World War Two. The relationships between Greta and Wilhelm, between the Weissensteiners and Winkelmeirs, change as the world about them changes. Their lives and deaths mirror those of millions who went through the tumultuous events of the times.

In The Luck of The Weissensteiners, Christoph Fischer paints a convincing picture. There is a great deal of social, economic, cultural, religious and political information; perhaps too much, but the story certainly doesn’t lack detail. Characters are plentiful and well-drawn, allowing for many issues and attitudes to be explored. In this regard, the story reminded me of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Vasili Grossman’s Life and Fate: extraordinary times seen through the eyes of ordinary people. But as with Tolstoy and Grossman, it would have been helpful had Christoph Fischer given us fewer names to learn and fewer relationships to remember. A list of characters would help. Fischer’s writing style too reminds me of books written long ago, or of translations from a foreign language. Perhaps this was intended to help convey a sense of time and place, but sometimes it felt stilted. Nevertheless, this is a book worth picking up. It’s not one that will keep you up all night until you get to the end; read it in instalments, digest it in bites. It’s not a bad thing in these days of instant gratification to chew slowly; the story has an interesting flavour and texture.