Saturday, December 3, 2011

Good Living Street by Tom Bonyhady

    Art historian, curator, and environmental lawyer Tim Bonyhady set quite a task for himself when he began detailing the lives of three generations of his family - he succeeded brilliantly.  Readers are given an up close and personal look at early twentieth-century Viennese art, culture, and family life - among the well-to-do, that is.  Bonyhady is both a fastidious and fascinating writer, painting vibrant word pictures that may, at times, seem a minor detail yet serve to completely portray an event or person.

    We learn not only of his family’s love of culture but also of fellow devotees among the wealthy Viennese Jews.  The author’s maternal great-grandparents, Moritz and Hermine Gallia, were leaders in this enthusiasm.  They were Jews who had converted to Catholicism for practical purposes (allowing them to fill positions that would be otherwise prohibited to them as Jews).  Vienna’s modern artists, such as Gustav Klimt who painted Hermine’s stunning full-length portrait benefitted from their patronage. Then, the Holocaust in Austria when their daughter, Kathe, was arrested by the Nazis.  Along with older sister, Gretyl, the family sought refuge in Australia.

    Amazingly enough the family was able to bring with them what has been called “the best private collection of art and design to escape Nazi Austria.”  Items included paintings, furniture, chandeliers, furs, and two pianos.  Nonetheless their arrival in Sydney was disorienting and difficult.

    Bonyhady has searched diaries, papers, letters, calendars, etc. to bring us a compelling and valuable true story.  Through the eyes of his family he has enabled us to clearly see Vienna at its cultural apex, the rise of anti-Semitism, the persecution of the Jews, and the anguish of resettlement.  This is not only an intriguing account but an important one.

    Highly recommended.

    - Gail Cooke

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