Leaving Vienna, city of windows
GOOD LIVING STREET: THE FORTUNES OF MY VIENNESE FAMILY
by Tim Bonyhady
Allen & Unwin, $35 pb, 464 pp, 9781742371467
Would it be indulgent to invoke Leonard Cohen? It’s just that his song ‘Take This Waltz’, which begins ‘Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women’, brings to mind that city’s fin-de-siècle world. In a liquescent poetic mosaic of shoulders and thighs, lilies, hyacinths, moonshine, and dew, I see the women as if painted by Gustav Klimt – portraitist, libertine – someone who ‘climbs to your picture with a garland of freshly cut tears’. And Cohen’s Kafkaesque ‘lobby with nine hundred windows’ stirs up images of Vienna as a city of windows, of watching and being watched. The song (based on a poem by Garcia Lorca) is desirous, death-defying, incessant, sardonic. Like the narrative of Tim Bonyhady’s book, it blends individual and larger histories. We are reminded of a place and time which, for many, was both gorgeous and abject, narcissistic and melancholy. With one foot in the nineteenth century and the other in the twentieth, it was a city waltzing towards immeasurable tragedy.