x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Night Falls on the City: Wartime Vienna takes centre stage

The first part of a trilogy set during the Second World War chronicles an actress's enduring struggle to keep her Jewish husband from falling into the hands of the Nazis.

Nights Falls on the City
Sarah Gainham
Little, Brown
Nights Falls on the City Sarah Gainham Little, Brown Dh47

Published as the first part of a trilogy in 1967, Night Falls is the novel that propelled the late Sarah Gainham to fame, due to her sombre portrayal of Second World War-era Vienna. Like the theatrical masterpieces performed in the city at that time, Gainham's Vienna is a work of nuance.

Aptly enough, the theatre symbolism becomes an ideal backdrop on which actress Julia Homburg's trials are set. Married to Franz Wedeker, a prominent Jewish politician, she is forced to keep him in hiding after the Third Reich extends its control to the Austrian capital. Eventually, seven years of keeping his whereabouts secret takes its toll on her personal life. Meanwhile, the rest of Vienna's entertainment elite sink to new lows to keep their profession alive in a time where any word against the new regime has its consequences.

Although cluttered with characters - some more fleshed out than others - the sense of human nature under pressure is a multi-hued canvas. While not steeped in the same level of shocking misery as other novels set within this period, Night Falls stands out for its subtle evocativeness.