The Last Waltz is the story of an upper-class young woman from Vienna named Amalia and the three men she loves: Eberhard, who is torn between his love of music and the Prussian military ideals he was raised with; Andrzej, the dangerous and romantic young Polish doctor; and Rudolf, the good friend of Amalia's beloved uncle, who becomes her protector and mentor. The story begins with Amalia as a naive young girl in the months before World War One breaks out, and follows her through romance, heartbreak, tragedy, and personal growth to the eve of World War Two, when she has matured to realize there are many different ways to love and that it's possible to love more than once in your life (contrary to what she's been taught). She has also become a fervent Austrian patriot, fighting in the few ways that are open to her as a woman to save her country from both the Communists and the Nazis.
The book takes a close look at a fascinating time in history - the leadup to and early years of WWI, which I don't know much about, and the years before WWII, which I know a little more about. The history is interesting and I enjoyed the look at how ordinary people (albeit people of the upper classes) were trying to live their lives amidst those momentous events. I found myself less interested in the political ins and outs of Austria in the late 1930s. But that's just me; I'm less interested in political details than I am in the larger events of history. If you are interested in those details, they are written out very clearly and obviously based on careful, thorough research.
Romance and angst abound, and I did find myself growing frustrated with Amalia, Eberhard, Andrzej, and Rudolf's seeming inability to make good decisions where love was concerned. Simple misunderstandings that could have been sorted out with an honest conversation instead led to years of heartache. But given the time period and society the book is set in, maybe it isn't realistic to expect that those kinds of conversations would have taken place. Amalia's attraction to Eberhard, Andrzej, and Rudolf is easy to understand, as is theirs to her. The Last Waltz is sweet romance, with no on-screen sex though there are a few brief and non-explicit references to off-screen sexual activity.
There's a lot of dialogue, and a lot of telling what people are thinking and feeling, and little action until the very end, a thrilling escape attempt from Austria after the Nazis take over. For my taste, I would have liked a little more showing through action and less telling of what the characters were thinking and feeling. In addition, transitions from one scene to the next were kind of abrupt and disorienting for my taste, and the end also seemed kind of abrupt; I would have liked a scene or an epilogue giving more resolution and hinting at where things go from there. I came to care about the characters and wanted to know what life had in store for them after the events at the end.
The world of Vienna from 1913-1938 is painted in colorful detail, bringing its beauty, glamour, and ebullience to life. I visited Vienna for a week as a child, and reading The Last Waltz made me want to go back sometime.
If you enjoy sweeping and well-researched historical novels filled with romance in a vivid setting with well-drawn characters, I recommend The Last Waltz.
For reading list and more reviews, see my main Clean Out Your eReader post.