by Jill Knight Weinberger
Reviewed by Kat Brzozowski
For some, travel is an exploration of place. For others, it is an exploration of self. For others still, it is an exploration of history. For Jill Knight Weinberger, the author of Vienna Voices, it is an intricate and multicolored mosaic of all three, and her book transports the reader to Vienna through personal history, lyrical and romantic descriptions, and critical examination of the city’s history. Weinberger’s intimate connection to Vienna influences the book both in tone and in focus as she introduces the reader her favorite spots and expounds on Vienna’s many wonders throughout this book.
Weinberger’s personal connection to the city stems from her marriage to G.J., a man of Viennese decent. However, Weinberger’s relationship with Vienna centers more on stories of G.J.’s father, Ludwig, and on Weinberger’s own relationship with the city rather than on her husband’s experiences. Weinberger weaves anecdotes, quotes from famous Viennese residents and visitors, and her own experiences together in producing a book which is a vivid snapshot of Vienna.
Much of the book’s depth and intrigue comes from Weinberger’s examination of Vienna’s history. Although she proclaims her love for Vienna through both her prose style and her attention to detail, she does not shy away from writing about its less proud moments during World War II, when the Viennese welcomed Hitler with open arms and expelled the city’s Jewish population to concentration camps throughout Europe. This facet of Viennese history has personal importance for Weinberger, as many of her husband’s relatives were murdered during the Holocaust, and Weinberger addresses this essential aspect of Vienna with humanity and sensitivity. She does not attempt to portray Vienna as perfect, but rather focuses on its flaws and failures along with its well-deserved reputation as a mecca for art and music.
Weinberger’s descriptions of Vienna and Viennese life capture not only the city’s essence but also its character and its quotidian pleasures. She writes about the bim, or trolley system, with humor, grace, and sincere affection. Her chapter on Viennese coffeehouses is both touching and personal, with descriptions that give the reader a clear sense of the daily lives of the Viennese and of Weinberger’s experiences in Vienna. Vienna through Weinberger’s eyes is fresh and exciting, and the author, a frequent visitor and occasional resident of the city, proves herself to be a worthy tour guide. She ties her experiences in Vienna to her acquired family history through her husband’s family and, in doing so, writes of Vienna as it if were some far-flung relative with whom she is now forming a relationship. Weinberger’s loving odes to Vienna’s quirkiness and grace make the city real for the reader, and the importance which Vienna holds for Weinberger’s life allows her dedication to the city to feel both sincere and significant.
The insertion of outside passages that are scattered throughout each chapter somewhat dampens the tenderness of Weinberger’s writing and her commitment to describing in the city of Vienna in crisp details. Although this additional information does add another level of depth to Weinberger’s descriptions of Vienna and allows the reader to see how the Viennese view their city in their own words, it is often disappointing to be drawn away from the beautiful and natural style of Weinberger’s prose and into recollections of the past. Despite this, Weinberger is a skilled and careful writer, moving from place to place yet remaining centered in one aspect of Vienna in each chapter, and the transitions between time and place are fairly seamless. Weinberger presents a complete and personal portrayal of Vienna, and, in doing so, the book reads as a love poem written by the author for her favorite city.
Vienna Voices is a fine piece of travel writing, a leisurely yet focused stroll through a city which is, for Weinberger, the birthplace of acquired family lore, the locus of artistic and musical expression, and a diverse and exciting modern city. The book is as much a memoir as it is a travel piece, and Weinberger uses Vienna as a mirror in which she views herself and her relationship with her husband’s family. The book succeeds in immersing the reader in a foreign city of which they might have no knowledge; a city of personal and familial relationships, of tourists and natives, and of sordid history and artistic geniuses.
Jill Knight Weinberger
(West Lafayette: Parlor Press, 2006).
ISBN: 1-932559-89-2. $34. 246 pp.