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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Weekend Cooking: The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 9780307268433
Hardcover, $26, 256 pages

Some books I like right away, some take me longer to become invested in. The Life of Objects took me awhile, but once it got a hold of me, it didn't let go until the emotional end. Beatrice (known as Maeve) is a young girl living in a small town in Ireland. She has a talent for making lace items, and one day a mysterious woman comes into her father's shop, sees Maeve's work, and tells her she would like to take her to Germany to work for her wealthy friends.

Maeve agrees and is drawn into the world of the Metzenburgs. Felix is a learned man, one whom loves his books and all of the objects on his family estate. His wife Dorothea is much younger, and they are both kind to Maeve, as she becomes not only a servant, but someone they take into their lives. Germany is on the cusp of World War II, and Felix refuses to be a part of the Nazi party. At first, it is not a problem as they live in the countryside. As the war continues over the years, and Germany becomes more isolated, things become worse for the Metzenburgs.

The author draws us into the horrors of war through the eyes of this wealthy German family. It is interesting to see the war from the point of view of Germans, much like David R. Gillam's novel City of Women did. Although the British are the good guys, the  description of hundreds of bombers flying over Germany dropping their ordinance is described to frightening effect. When the Russians invade, their army takes revenge on the the Metzenburgs and the people who live in their home. That section was so difficult to read; the realities of war and what people do to each other in its name shows the worst of human nature.

One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is how the author uses food to show what happened to the family, and Germany. At first, there are sumptuous banquets of food served at each meal on beautiful objects, a feast for all the senses. As the war progresses, food decreases in quantity and quality, until there is almost nothing left. Yet the Metzenburgs share what they have with those in need.

At the first Christmas of the war, Maeve was invited to dine with the Metzenburgs and their guests.
"We were having smoked trout, partridges, potatoes Anna, and brussels sprouts, with apple tart for dessert, everything grown or killed on the estate. In the center of the table, four porcelain pheasant and a large porcelain turkey cock sat in the nests of holly. On a sideboard, a rhinoceros, a monkey, a ram a fawn and a lion, all in glazed bisque, stood around the tiny silver-and-velvet bed I'd packed in Berlin, patiently waiting for the Christ Child to arrive."
By the end of the war, Dorothea and Maeve were in Berlin, selling off whatever they had been able to hide in order to survive.
"We shared a pack of cigarettes a day, even though they made us sick. We consumed so much chocolate and tinned sardines and Nescafe with powdered milk that we sometimes spoke wistfully of our suppers of wild mushrooms and watercress." 

If you liked City of Women any of Irene Neviromsky's novels, you should read The Life of Objects. This haunting novel took me on an emotional journey, and I was completely wrung out by the end.

rating 4 of 5


  1. Excellent review. I like the quoted pieces and descriptions of food. i get so many good recommendations for books from you and Beth Fish Reads!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. (And I love Beth Fish reads too- I get great books from her as well.)

  2. Hi Diane,

    This sounds like a great book. I haven't read either of the other authors you mention, but it would be good to read something of the war from the perspective of a German family. The trauma and horrifying cruelty which were inflicted by the Russian troops was really the stuff of horror movies and as you point out, we Brits did our fair share of retaliatory destruction to German cities and peoples.

    Your excerpt about the sumptuous and plentiful meals, were like reading a description from an English historical novel. To be honest, I don't know how the people managed to eat so many times a day, so many courses and so much quantity of food. There must have been so much wastage! Just the thought of it is making me feel queasy!

    Thanks for sharing and for the book recommendation,


  3. Sounds like this was well worth spending the extra time to become invested! I loved both Suite Francaise and Fire in the Blood, so will add this to my wish list. Great review.

    1. I loved Suite Francaise too. I read it on the beach during vacation years ago; not exactly a 'beach read', but it was so good.

  4. I'm sure sections of this book are very difficult to read. Accounts of wars, current or in history, are disturbing, hard to imagine when you are so far removed from the events. Nice that the author used food to help demonstrate the differences from before and during the war.

  5. Diane I will have to read this book. I'm not sure I want to be 'wrung out' but I have to read it.

  6. Oh this sounds really good -- I love the contrast of what is available before and after.

  7. Thanks for highlighting this one, definitely my type of read. It's fascinating and often appalling the lengths people have to go to feed themselves during wartime ... feast to famine

  8. I always enjoy books that highlight the food in the lives of the characters. This one sounds good.