A Mystery Book and a Taste of Vienna

NOTICE: For a recipe that sweeps you back to a Vienna Coffee Shop, follow this link to My Kids Eat Squid.


Hofburg Palace, Vienna

Destination: Vienna

Book: A Death in Vienna (2004)
by Daniel Silva

A GUEST POST by Kristin J. Gough

“We don’t talk about that,” I remember my house Frau explaining when I asked her about the Holocaust. I knew enough about the reserved manner of the Viennese not to have asked the question without a reason, or flippantly. The next week I was travelling to Salzburg and visiting the Mauthausen, along the way.

With my American naivete, I had asked my house Frau what she knew about Mauthausen, once one of the largest labor-concentration camps run by the Nazis during World War II. Although she was happy to talk about how to make Wiener Schnitzel, the breaded, fried pieces of veal that are a Viennese namesake; or even discuss the upcoming political election, the Holocaust went without an answer.

Schoenbrunn Palace Great Gallery

In 1995, I was a college student studying in Vienna and living with an Austrian family in the town’s outskirts when the almost conversation took place (I passed Schonbrunn castle, once the imperial summer palace that’s been turned into a tourist hotspot, every day on the way to school). Years later while reading Daniel Silva’s A Death in Vienna (Gabriel Allon Novels) I couldn’t help but recall my own experiences in the country and its capital.

In the contemporary fiction story, readers are introduced (or reintroduced rather since the character appears in several Silva books) to Gabriel Allon, a reluctant Israeli assassin, whose cover is as an Italian art restorer. He returns to Vienna, the site where his wife had been seriously wounded and his young son killed years before by a car bomb, to look into yet another terrorist-linked bombing. This time, the bomb nearly kills an old friend, Eli Lavon, who works to restore funds taken from the Jews during World War II. While investigating Lavon’s near death, Gabriel uncovers that one of the men Lavon had been investigating, Erich Radek, had been involved not only in the Nazi death camps, but also in trying to cover up the existence of those camps. There are many more layers to the story, and Gabriel travels across the globe in his efforts to track Radek.

Although this novel is strictly a thriller, it uses history and current events to drive the action. You can listen to an NPR interview with Daniel Silva here.

Silva, a former producer for CNN who worked in Europe and the Middle East, illuminates the complex feelings of the Viennese towards their Jewish history as the novel unfolds. This is a perspective you wouldn’t get simply striking up a conversation in one of Vienna’s many coffee houses or even if you lived in the city, as I did.

St. Stephens Dome, Vienna

While Gabriel never seems to make it to some of my favorite locations in Vienna, like Karlskirche, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or even Schonbrunn Palace, the villian Radek is first identified in a chance encounter at a café (how appropriate since cafes are so indicative of life in Vienna). Stephansdome, the gothic cathedral in the center of the city, does get a starring role in a few scenes.

Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon is always on the move, so he never seems to get a chance to stop in a Viennese café for coffee and a pastry. But if you’re ever in the city, you should plan on making a stop at the storied pastry shops of Sacher or Demel. Vienna not in your travel plans? Try making Ischl Tartlets (Ischler tortchen) to get a taste of the city, while you’re reading. [UPDATE: You can find the recipe for Ischl Tartlets here.]

Demel’s Pastries


Kristen Gough

Kristen J. Gough is always up for an adventure. Usually it involves something in the kitchen. She has written for a variety of publications including Parenting, Parents, KIWI, Relish, MetroParent, Big Apple Parent, BabyZone.com and others.  You can read more about her family’s forays in food at MyKidsEatSquid.com.

THANKS! This is Kristen’s third contribution to A Traveler’s Library and we love the light she sheds on travel literature. (VMB) All pictures here are property of Vera Marie Badertscher. Please ask before copying!

Previous A Traveler’s Library contributions by Kristen J. Gough: Road Trip Family travels in Michigan and in South Dakota. You can also read about Mozart vs. Sound of Music and a romantic palace in Salzburg in earlier entries at A Traveler’s Library.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

7 thoughts on “A Mystery Book and a Taste of Vienna

  1. And thank you for a provocative (to me, anyway) post Kristen. I responded only to the early part but I reserved the Silva book at the library.

  2. Thanks for letting me contribute again Vera–and about one of my favorite places. It’s interesting to hear Edie’s point of view about the Viennese talking about the Holocaust. I really do think Silva brings out a side of Vienna that you don’t often see, and in an entertaining, educational way.

    Look for the pastry recipe coming this week!

  3. This is a book I’ve always meant to read. This reminds me to put it back on the must-read list. And maybe that in turn will inspire me to visit Vienna, a city that also keeps falling off my must-visit list! Thanks Kristin and Vera!

  4. My parents both fled Vienna after the Holocaust began. They met later in New York and married, I suspect, because each reminded the other of home. They left behind parents, aunts and uncles, and in my father’s case, a sister — all of whom were sent to concentration camps. From their perspective, the Austrian reticence to discuss what happened during the war covered up a great enthusiasm for following Nazi programs, a fervor that sometimes outdid that of the Germans themselves. I grew up with a very mixed picture of Vienna, which I visited once — love for the past beauty and culture and a great sense of betrayal that undercut everything else.

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