Up until the last couple chapters, I feel like I was the perfect reader for this wonderful book. It ties into so many things I’ve read but maybe especially to The Glass Room by Simon Mawer. There are many other books from the era of the World Wars which prepared me and I can even see a bit of Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro in the”butler,” Pokorny. But The Last Palace is nonfiction – not just “fictionalized” or “based on a true story” and it’s not just one war.
What we’re getting with The Last Palace, is the inside story of the house and its owners/inhabitants as Europe went thought the tumultouos 20th Century and a bit of the 21st. We’re also reading about the life of Frieda Grunfeld Eisen, a Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia and the mother of the author who was the US ambassador to the Czech Republic between 2010 and 2014.
The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House
by Norman Eisen
2018 / 398 pages
read by Jeff Goldblum – 15h 36m
Rating: 9 / history
(both read and listened)
Although it is carefully researched and sourced, there are parts which are written in distinctly literary manner, lively and entertaining. Norman Eisen was the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2010 to 2014.
But Eisen’s book is much more than a recital of long-ago events or a reinter-preting of dusty history. The narrative zooms in on events in and around Prague, Czechoslovakia during this whole time period.
This book contains five basic stories. There is story of the origins of the builder and owner of that “last palace,” Villa Petschek, Otto Petschek, and his family as they lived in Prague and in the palace Otto built there. It then continues with the story of Rudoph Toussaint, a German Army officer stationed at the palace during the end of WWII. And there’s Laurence Steinhardt’s tragic story. From a Jewish family of wealth Steinhardt was the US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia between 1948 and 1950, when the Soviet Union took charge although thanks to Laurence the house was American and new Ambassadors lived there – 7 of them between Laurence and the next Ambassador featured in the book.
Then came the Soviets and Slavic Communists with several Ambassadors and finally Shirley Temple Black whose story was far more exciting than I ever suspected and Norm Eisen, the author, as Ambassadors living in the house that Otto Petschek built.
Interspersed with these stories is the story of Eisen’s orthodox Jewish mother, Frieda Grunfeld Eisen and her life from Czechoslovak Jewish girl to US immigrant where she gave birth to Norman.
I think the stories are so different and each one has several chapters. There were been more Ambassadors to Czechoslovakia between WWI and 2014 of course, but these five families were fascinating.