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Mendelssohn is on the Roof

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On the roof of Prague's concert hall, Julius Schlesinger, aspiring SS officer, is charged with the removal of the statue of the Jew Mendelssohn--but which one is he? Remembering his course on "racial science," Schlesinger instructs his men to pull down the statue with the biggest nose. Only as the statue topples does he recognize the face of Richard Wagner. This is just the beginning in Weil's novel, which traces the transformation of ordinary lives in Nazi-occupied Prague.

228 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1960

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About the author

Jiří Weil

14 books25 followers
Jiří Weil IPA: [jɪr̝iː vaɪl] was a Czech writer. He was Jewish. His noted works include the two novels Life with a Star, and Mendelssohn Is on the Roof, as well as many short stories, and other novels.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 139 reviews
Profile Image for Katie.
277 reviews357 followers
August 10, 2018
When Reinhard Heydrich attends a concert in Prague he is incensed when he sees a statue of the Jewish composer Mendelssohn on the roof and orders it be destroyed. Thus the novel begins and will enter the minds and lives of the various people who are directly and indirectly involved in the saga of the statue. Initially no one can work out which of the many statues is Mendelssohn. Consensus is it must be the one with the biggest nose. However, this is Wagner, the Third Reich's favourite composer. It's a brilliant mockery of the mindless insanity of racial hatred.

The novel has no central character. It aims at giving the big picture of life in Prague during the Nazi occupation. We get the perspectives of both the persecutors and the persecuted. It's written as if everything that happens is normal - there's none of the hyperbole language of many modern holocaust novels. Jifi Weil lived through these times and there's an authenticity about his vision which is both satirical and cynical. I was thoroughly captivated throughout. A fabulous achievement.
Profile Image for Tony.
919 reviews1,556 followers
October 26, 2017
One book leads to another. As here.

I last read HHhH by Laurent Binet and from page one (the pages were unnumbered, but I could count that far) I knew I had something special in my hands. Every page yielded a laugh, a horror, an enchantment. Binet, in a novel kind of history (or history novel), seemed always to find the right anecdote.

My favorite story was about Reinhard Heydrich (Acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, trustee of The Final Solution, Nazi to the core, and music lover) leaving the Prague Opera House after a performance of Don Giovanni. He espies a statue of Felix Mendelssohn above the concert hall and goes apoplectic: Mendelssohn is on the roof!

The 'story' comes from this book, cited by Binet in his work. Binet correctly acknowledges that Mendelssohn is on the Roof is a descendant in the long line of subversive Czech literature dating back to The Good Soldier Švejk. So, duh, I ordered this one before I got to the bottom of the page in that one. And this one arrived just as I was closing that one.

There can not be a Jewish composer on top of a German concert hall, Heydrich insists. Soldiers are sent to bring it down. But there are no names on the statues. Thinking quickly, and remembering his courses in racial science, officer Schlesinger tells his men to tumble the statue of the composer with the biggest nose. Okay, the men say. At the last second, Schlesinger realizes they have placed a noose around the neck of Richard Wagner.

The slapstick moments are few though. This is Prague, 1942, and there will be retribution when a bomb goes off under Heydrich's car.

Two little girls are hiding in a cupboard. Their existence is tenuous. We meet them early on. Adela and Greta. Please don't hurt them. Please don't hurt them. Please don't . . .

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 'statue' motif that runs through the book. There is Mendelssohn, of course,

but various statues pop up at increasingly important moments; and one consignment dealer can not seem to get rid of a statue of Lady Justice.

But it is also fitting that it was Don Giovanni playing that night in Prague. The opera ends when a statue enters and takes Don Giovanni by the hand. Hell opens and the two disappear into the flames.

Profile Image for José.
400 reviews28 followers
January 4, 2021
Comienza con una sátira sobre la estatua de Mendelssohn sobre el tejado del Rudolfinum praguense y sobre sus páginas se comienza a relumbrar la barbarie del holocausto.
Profile Image for Elena Sala.
488 reviews80 followers
June 11, 2023
MENDELSSOHN IS ON THE ROOF (1960) is a novel about life in Prague under the rule of the Nazis. It focuses on different characters and on several real events. While the subject matter is undoubtedly grim, Jiří Weil sometimes finds a way to introduce some absurdist humor and satire in his tragic story.

The novel starts with Julius Schlesinger, a pompous, ignorant middle-ranking SS officer who has been ordered to remove the statue of the composer Mendelssohn (who was born into a Jewish family) from the roof of the Rudolfinum concert hall. This order came from the top. After attending a pleasant concert at the Rudolfinum, Reinhard Heydrich -Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, one of the chief architects of the Final Solution and Hitler's darling -who was also a passionate devotee of music, observed Mendelssohn's repulsive statue gracing the roof of the concert hall. Heydrich ordered that the offending piece of masonry was to be removed immediately.

Schlesinger had no idea what Mendelssohn looked like; and nor did his two workmen. This was a real problem, because Heydrich was THE BOSS and his orders had to be taken very seriously. Schlesinger was desperate so he ordered his men to pull down the statue with the largest nose. So the workmen slung their noose around the neck of Richard Wagner -a German composer revered by the Nazis- and hoped for the best. Jews are renowned for their big noses so surely they must have picked the right statue...

With this story, and those of his other characters, Weil explores the paranoid suspicions that existed between the Czechs and their Nazi overlords, between the different levels of the Nazi hierarchy, between the SS and the Gestapo. The reader is introduced to the corrupt web of the Nazi bureaucracy, the lives of those people who risked their lives hiding and protecting others; and finally, to life in the infamous Terezin ghetto.

Jiří Weil was born in 1900 into a Jewish family, in a village near Prague. During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Weil had to remain in Prague where he was employed at the Jewish Museum until an order came for his transportation to the Jewish ghetto town of Terezin in 1942. Weil faked his own death and spent the rest of the war in hiding, moving from place to place, while being chased by the Gestapo. This powerful novel draws from his own painful life experience.
Profile Image for Adam Rabiner.
130 reviews3 followers
August 1, 2020
While Primo Levi, Anne Frank, and Eli Weizel are well known contributors to Holocaust literature, Jiri Weil is not. It is a shame that Weil is not better known because his work is just as powerful. This novel, set in German occupied Prague, "The Protectorate" as it is known, faithfully and horrifically describes life outside of the concentration camp. The closest it gets is the Terezin ghetto. Life was equally bleak outside the extermination camps. The novel views the world through the eyes of various characters, some Jews but others Nazis or Czech workers. This pastiche dwells on the usual themes of evil, power, death, violence, and suffering. A less typical theme was the psychic pain experienced by those who chose to or were forced to be complicit with the Nazis. And, although almost everyone meets a poor ending, in the end life always affirms itself. This truly is a brilliant novel and classic literature at its best.
Profile Image for Jose Carlos.
Author 12 books444 followers
May 8, 2019
Jiři Weil y Mendelssohn en el tejado: las cualidades de una obra maestra

A veces te llega un libro que resulta ser una obra maestra. Quizás convendría definir ese concepto, y seguro que habría variedad de opiniones. Por eso voy a reformular el principio de este texto: a veces te llega un libro que te transforma, eres una persona al principio de su lectura, y algo te ha quedado dentro que te ha cambiado cuando cierras sus tapas. Pues bien, esta y no otra es la historia de la lectura de Mendelssohn en el tejado, la obra maestra del escritor checo Jiří Weil que publicó hace ya tres años la editorial Impedimenta, y de la que os voy a hablar hoy.
Mendelssohn en el tejado apareció en 1960, de forma póstuma y apenas un año después de que una leucemia acabase con la vida de su autor. Sin duda, es una de las mejores novelas checas, tal vez la mejor, de la segunda mitad del siglo XX.

Qué podemos encontrarnos en Mendelssohn en el tejado que la convierte en una experiencia de lectura tan especial? En primer lugar, el texto reúne todos esos elementos que la convierten en claro ejemplo de lo que ya he denominado como la literatura de Praga; y eso siempre resulta fascinante en una novela; las características principales de este tipo de novelas praguenses: Praga y el ahogo, Praga y la muerte, Praga y la enfermedad, Praga y la chatarra, Praga y la basura, Praga y Gustav Meyrink, Praga y Franz Kafka…, categorías a las que se pueden añadir Praga y el Golem, Praga y la crónica negra, Praga y los asesinos…

Pues todas estas categorías, o casi todas, de una u otra forma aparecen reflejadas en la novela de Jiří Weil.

Mendelssohn en el tejado incorpora todos estos temas afines a la literatura de la ciudad en una narración que se ubica durante los crueles tiempos de la ocupación nazi de Bohemia. De ese modo, y mediante una visión cruda y realista de la sociedad y de la ciudad, y de un tratamiento directo de los hechos históricos, se nos ofrece un complejo tejido coral protagonizado por una serie de personas que se definen por su comportamiento, o posición, en relación a los nazis.

Por un lado, tenemos a los checos que han sido invadidos y se ven obligados a trabajar bajo las órdenes de los alemanes, muy a pesar suyo y para salvar la vida. Por otro, los checos colaboracionistas, que han decidido voluntariamente ayudar al invasor a cambio de algunas pequeñas prebendas. Además, tenemos a los checos que han decidido ocultarse del horror y a los checos que han optado por resistir activamente. A todos ellos debemos que añadir a los propios nazis desplazados a la ciudad, desde cargos bajos y medios, hasta el propio Reichsprotektor de Bohemia y Moravia, apodado como el carnicero de Praga, Reinhard Heydrich.

Y, como no, los judíos checos de Praga, desde los ciudadanos más normales hasta los miembros del Consejo, obligados, también, a colaborar con los nazis de diferentes formas. Bien con trabajos forzados o esclavos, bien contribuyendo al expolio de los otros judíos, o administrando la burocracia necesaria para el proceso de exterminio de los judíos de la zona: primero, mandándolos al campo de tránsito de Terezín y, después, gestionando las listas de aquellos que se enviarían a Auschwitz.

Los aciertos literarios de Jiří Weil en esta composición son muchos, producto de su solidez como escritor y de su gran olfato narrativo. Ha creado una obra coral con muchos personajes, ninguno decididamente protagonista, pero todos ellos son decisivos, interesantes, y ninguno superficial. ¿Cómo lo consigue?

El autor nos muestra los problemas y dilemas psicológicos de cada personaje, éticos también, que se desprenden de su relación con los nazis, ya sean colaboradores, resistentes, ocultos, trabajadores forzados, condenados a muerte o, incluso, aquellos que atentarán contra la vida de Heydrich, e incluso conoceremos durante el primer tercio de la novela lo que atosiga al propio Heydrich. De esa forma, el profundo estudio psicológico de los personajes los caracterizará por sus miedos, dudas o remordimientos ante las acciones que están llevando a cabo.

Por otro lado, la novela ofrece un retrato histórico frío y demoledor, podría decir que deleznable, de los hábitos cotidianos de aquellos días de la ocupación alemana. Las vidas que vemos pasar ante nuestros ojos lectores son las vidas de las personas que se veían en la obligación de afrontar un día más con el pavor a los invasores, con el hambre del racionamiento, con el mutismo y el miedo de los ocultos, con el odio de los resistentes y, sobre todo, con la ignominiosa carga de que en aquellos momentos solo contaba el poder sobrevivir unas horas más, tal vez un día más, y para ello debían hacer cosas moralmente inaceptables, indecentes, crueles o simplemente criminales.

De esa forma la cala histórica que lleva a cabo el autor en el momento temporal determinado de la ocupación se reviste de dos capas de barniz literario: la propiamente documental, los hechos registrados, y la personal, con el desarrollo interno de los personajes. De esta forma, tenemos una novela histórica impecable, muy del estilo de las de Stefan Zweig, por ejemplo, solo que Jiří Weil ha sabido humanizar a los personajes históricos y elevar a la categoría de héroes a los secundarios.

Novela histórica y novela coral, novela realista y psicológica, novela de Praga —de esa Praga de la quincalla, de la chatarra y la suciedad de Bohumil Hrabal, novela de la Praga de los asesinos y los asesinatos, de las crónicas negras de Egon Erwin Kisch, y novela de los autómatas, novela de la Praga de Meyrink, al fin, y de su Golem, porque Mendelssohn en el tejado es, por encima de todo, la novela de la Praga de las estatuas.

Mendelssohn en el tejado es una novela de estatuas, algo que define a Praga, con un censo estatuario descomunal. No en vano, el Mendelssohn que se encuentra en el tejado es la efigie del compositor ubicada en un alero del tejado del Rudolfinum, el complejo arquitectónico musical que con la llegada de los nazis había sido renombrado como la Casa de la Música Alemana y, obviamente, la estatua de un compositor judío como Mendelssohn sobraba en la azotea.

La orden del Reichsprotektor es la de tirar la estatua de Mendelssohn, pero como nadie sabe distinguirla están a punto de acabar con la de Wagner (dado que tenía la nariz de apariencia más mosaica de todas las efigies). Este malentendido inicial, con mucha ironía y humor satírico al mejor estilo del Švejk de Hašek, es un inicio de la novela magnifico, pero también algo engañoso.

Desde la bufonada inicial, el texto irá derivando, se irá introduciendo en la oscuridad, la crudeza, pasando por alguna pequeña paliza (que rompe algún diente con profusión de sangre), para adentrarse en conductas cada vez más violentas y miserables, alcanzado el asesinato e, incluso, las ejecuciones sumarísimas.

El espiral de crueldad de Jiří Weil con sus personajes desemboca en un par de capítulos finales tan memorables como los del principio son algo chocarreros; lamentablemente, estos capítulos finales no tienen nada de lo zafio que nos llevó a sonreírnos al principio, ni la carga irónica. Nada que se le parezca. El final de Mendelssohn en el tejado es épico, pero también se presenta cargado de lirismo, como una forma, quizás, de anestesiar la brutal crueldad que se describen en esas páginas finales.

Al final, toda la literatura de Praga que ha ido desarrollado sus motivos a lo largo del texto, incluso esa Praga de las estatuas que tanta presencia tiene —hasta se mencionan las efigies del Puente de Carlos—, todo eso ha desembocado en una literatura de la Praga de los asesinos, de la Praga de la muerte y los carniceros. De la Praga de la sangre.

Por estos capítulos finales, la novela funciona sobre nosotros, lectores, como una carga de profundidad. Nos ha ido llevando de la mano por una crecida de horrores hasta el clímax más inhumano y virulento, y en ese proceso nos ha obligado a cambiar; percibimos que algo se ha transformado en nosotros.

Con Jiří Weill y Mendelssohn en el tejado nos hemos ido dando cuenta, y aceptando, que la cobardía es una forma de supervivencia válida en según qué momentos, que no existen finales felices, solo finales, generalmente injustos, pero finales al fin y al cabo. Que un héroe puede ser cualquiera que se plantee un dilema moral, aunque no haga nada para resolverlo, y que siempre existirá gente dispuesta al sacrificio, lo que dota a estas páginas empapadas de sangre con el dorado brillo del optimismo y la esperanza.

Esperanza: a pesar de su discurso terrible, del retrato fantasmal (algo muy praguense, por cierto) y de su final anegado en dolor. Y si con todo ello, somos capaces de cerrar el libro creyendo en que el bien resiste y que la humanidad merece la pena, eso, sin duda, se debe a la inmensa maestría del autor que ha sido capaz de componer estas páginas tan inolvidables como estremecedoras. Inolvidable y estremecedora: las características necesarias, al menos dos de ellas, de una obra maestra de la literatura.

Profile Image for Pedro.
502 reviews150 followers
June 13, 2019
Mendelssohn en el tejado fue escrita a fines de la década del '50, cuando las heridas que dejó el nazismo estaban aún abiertas. Pese a ello Weil es capaz de abrir esta novela con una pequeña historia en el que la crueldad es ridiculizada a través del absurdo. Pero esto no nos debe engañar; gradualmente se va haciendo presente la contundencia del sufrimiento humano.
La novela no sigue el camino clásico, sino que va recorriendo las circunstancias de los múltiples personajes, con un estilo que va del costumbrismo (si cabe el género en un ambiente amenazante). Y eso es posible por la una cuidadosa construcción de la trama y la clara prosa de Weil.
Un libro doloroso que vale la pena.
Profile Image for Malcolm.
1,767 reviews433 followers
November 1, 2011
The farce of the attempts to remove the statue of Felix Mendelssohn from the roof of Prague’s Rudolfinum during the Nazi occupation is one of the great stories of Prague’s otherwise tragic time in the euphemistically named Reichsprotektorate of Bohemia and Moravia; the orthodoxies of Nazi ‘racial science’ holds that the Jewish composer should have the biggest nose, when that was the case for the statue of Wagner – the Nazi’s favourite composer. In the end, Mendelssohn was taken down but left on the roof and now stands again amid the statues of others in the canon of European classical music.

In this book, however, the tale is removed from its usual more recent farcical form and relocated in the tragedy that was the Nazi occupation, its absurdities and horrors, and its small and not so small acts of resistance. Weil, a Jew who survived the occupation by faking his own death (and thus avoiding the transportations to the East – Auschwitz) and hiding/being hidden by friends for the duration, reveals the experiences of Prague’s occupation and the delicately (or not so delicately) balanced compromises its citizens made to survive. For such a short book – barely 230 pages – there are an awful lot of characters, but there is a small set at the core around whom others orbit, but in having such a broad group – Jewish intellectuals, Czech bureaucrats and functionaries, SS, Gestapo and other occupiers, resistance fighters, children in hiding and more – Weil has been able to take us inside the occupation, inside the path to extermination, and inside the mindsets of occupiers and occupied to give us interwoven and interconnecting tales the ring true which makes them all the more powerful and all the more alarming.

What is more, he does so in places that ring true – Prague’s Jewish Town Hall, bars, suburbs, villages and hills, and the fortress town of Terežin (Theresienstadt) – in places that I know and that continue to carry a haunting sensation of loss, grief and terror. Weil also builds key moments and pieces of the book around key events of the occupation – the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Reichsprotektor (that is, commander of the occupation) and manager of the Europe-wide extermination of Jews, Gypsies and others targeted by the Reich happened largely as presented. This event then appears in its effects elsewhere – the reference to the assassins being caught, but not the ensuing gun battle in the basement of the Church of Saints Methodius and Cyrill on Resslova near Charles Square (there is a moving Museum in the basement and a monument to the victims of the post-Heydrich terror nearby), while it is hard not to read a reference to the arrival of some in Terežin who came from a destroyed village, as being from Lidice – the village home of one of the assassins that was annihilated (along with its population) in the month after the killing; all that remains is a column in a field marking the former centre of the village and the graves of its inhabitants. The point is that there is so much going on around the story that some knowledge of Czech history and of the time of the occupation seems to me to make it a richer read – but then I have not read the book without that knowledge, and I don’t think reading it without that knowledge is likely to lessen the power of the story.

The merit of the book likes in its powerful story and stories, and Weil’s ability to take us as readers into the mundane experience of his characters – occupiers and occupied – to make them rich and rounded, which is not to say ‘nice’; he makes it so Heydrich’s order to remove the statue comes when he sees it on his way into the Rudolfinum for a Mozart concert, which he attends not out of duty but out of his love of music, while the removers see it as an odd order but one that must be obeyed, even if they don’t know which statue is Mendelssohn and have to conscript a ‘learned Jew’ to tell them…… Rich also is the discipline of the orphaned Jewish sisters in hiding, their desire to play outside and their knowledge that if they do they’ll land their hiders in trouble so they remain quietly in the house.

It is a powerful and beautiful book let down by annoying elements of its translation and presentation. Northwestern UP use Czech orthography only for Weil’s first name on the cover but not for any of the other names in the book – so Terežin loses its accent. Even more annoying are the small Americanisms meaning that ‘football’ becomes ‘soccer’ in the mouth of a character (to both Czech & Germans it is football!), and the wife of a German officer becomes a “college graduate” when Weil means a university graduate. I accept that this is US publisher, but this terminology is simply annoying and not in the spirit of the book-as-written.

That said, these production decisions are not so annoying as to weaken the power of the book, to take from the wonder that is Weil’s writing, or to take too much from my enjoyment (although that is not quite the right word) of this great piece of 20th century European fiction. This is even more the case when we consider its development: according to Derek Sayer, in his The Coasts of Bohemia, Weil was under pressure from the Czech authorities at the end of the 1950s to make more of the Soviet role in liberating Czechoslovakia and made a number of significant changes including omission of chapters, changes to key elements of the narrative and insertion of chapters required by the authorities (and cites as his source Weil himself). This edition is from the 1960 Czech publication; Sayer cites a 1990 edition with a slightly different Czech title. Even despite this muddled genealogy, it is surely one of the great novels.
Profile Image for Trotalibros.
124 reviews1,113 followers
June 10, 2018
Una sàtira s'acaba convertint en una tragèdia. A través dels seus múltiples personatges "Mendelssohn és a la teulada" retrata la repressió nazi a la ciutat de Praga. Les indiferents estàtues, muts testimonis del deliri del règim, tenen un paper fonamental al relat i una forta càrrega simbòlica. És una d’aquestes novel·les amb ànima, que batega, que t’atrapa i que, quan l’acabes, et deixa buit i l’única manera que tens d’omplir aquest buit és rellegint pàgines del llibre o parlant d’ell. Molt recomanable.

Ressenya completa: https://entrelletres.cat/2018/06/03/m...
Profile Image for Issie.
116 reviews10 followers
August 11, 2018
Comenzó muy cómicamente trágico, después fue siendo más bien trágico. Cargado de ironía, en momentos aburrido.
Profile Image for Leah.
143 reviews66 followers
December 3, 2014
The main problem with this work is the confusing nature of the storyline. Weil clearly has the grandest of ambitions, and it is obvious that he is a capable, strong writer. The ideas for a remarkable story are certainly there, as is the character development - from the Jewish families, Nazi officials, and Czech citizens. The subtle nuances of each individual struggling to survive in Nazi-occupied Prague bring striking humanity to the most inhuman times; Weil manages to portray each individual character as complex, driven by myriad desires and emotions.

There are heavy allusions made towards certain members of the Nazi party - clearly Speer and Heydrich play substantial roles, though they are never really mentioned by name, only by behaviors, physical descriptions, and commentary on their positions in the Czechoslovakian Protectorate. The Czech characters are human, and trying to bump along and maintain their livelihood in light of the occupation.

In many ways, the complexities of the characters is reflective of contemporary postmodern literature. For a subject matter that is frequently a magnet for absolutist thought and behavior (one side being "all bad," the other side being "all good"), Weil deals thoughtfully and provocatively with the two 'sides' to the Nazi occupation. Neither side is portrayed absolutely: there are moments of kindness on both sides of the conflict. The complexity, however, can become an overriding theme in character development - a behavior not uncommon in 'Mendelssohn is on the Roof' - and prevents true character depth from developing throughout the story.

Some of my favorite writing of the book is included when one of the Nazi leaders (presumed, and heavily implied to be, Reinhardt Heydrich) thinks about the importation of German cultural behavior to Prague. The juxtaposition of his thoughts on Beethoven during the purges of the Nazi party members are remarkable, despite being basically absurd.

Weil's poetic descriptions of the beautiful city (which I have loved so well) are fitting and appropriate: they avoid heavy handedness, while still grasping at the deeply emotional connection many feel with the beauty, and cultural traditions of, Prague.

'Mendelssohn is on the Roof' becomes frustrating because clearly Weil has an excellent story idea. The Nazi occupation of Prague is not nearly as frequently discussed or explored through literature and history as many other aspects of World War II, so Weil successfully avoids cliche and triteness; he is able to bring a fresh outlook to a subject that has been, to some extent, overplayed and wrought with rigid intellectual and emotional behavior.

Weil is obviously confident in his ability to create a remarkable foundation for a story (he is extremely successful), but doesn't excercise control over how, precisely, to incorporate underlying themes and character leitmotifs to effectivelly *tell* the story.

Throughout the novel, it's evident that the author is straddling the line between trying to create a magical realist story (a la M. Kundera's tradition) and telling a linear, simple story of survival amongst Prague's residents. Either methodology would have worked equally well, but the indecision about literary methodology - which carries through to the end of the book - sporadically outshines the story's incredible potential as a masterpiece.

Overall, the work is quite excellent, but not without its flaws. Much like the characters of 'Mendelssohn is on the Roof,' the storytelling itself is courageously ambitious. However, Weil's storytelling wavers without a decisive literary behavior.
1,937 reviews38 followers
September 13, 2023
There are books which you read and wonder why you had never heard of it sooner and you somehow feel your ignorance as a reproach and disgrace and 'Mendelssohn is on the Roof 'is one of those books. It is also the sort of book all those who have wasted time on 'The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas' should have been reading. It is devastatingly beautiful as well as intelligent and funny - yes funny - as humour, satire, irony and farce are the only way to deal with the horror that was life under the Nazis. And you can use humour if, like Mr. Weil, you have lived and experienced what you write

Aside from anything else it is extraordinary to read a work of literature first published in 1960 that was decades ahead of historians in portraying ramshackle inefficiency as the 'reality' behind the Nazi occupation state under Heydrich. For too long after WWII the Nazi's retained posthumous undeserved reputation for ruthless efficiency in their exploitation of conquered lands. They were ruthless, but also stupid, petty, bunglers. People like Jiri Weil saw this at first hand as well as living through experiences of grotesque horror unimaginable to anyone who wasn't there.

I ascribe as a reason for the novel's opacity on literary memory probably has something to do with the way the Soviets as perceived as saviours - if I had been in Prague in 1945 I would have welcomed the Soviets after the Nazis - that turned out to be brutal occupiers as well doesn't change what was felt in when they first drove out the Germans who, we should remember, had been allowed in Britain and France.

I can not praise this book enough - it is criminal that is not better known.
227 reviews2 followers
August 3, 2012
It starts out as quite a funny and light book, as a satire of the nazi's occupying Prague. Of course, this was no picknick, and after about one hundred pages the tone changes to melancholy and misery. However, it never becomes cliched or melodramatical. On the contrary, the portraits painted by Weil are deeply moving.

Now, I didnt give it five stars, because I was really enjoying the mocking of nazis, when suddenly the stories started to become grimmer and grimmer and the dark humour that characterized the first stories started to disappear. I say stories, because though a novel, the book seems to be structured as a collection of short stories: every chapter is a story by itself, but is also connected to the previous and coming chapters (stories). Different characters pop up in different stories and play different parts: sometimes they are main characters, sometimes they just make a cameo, and sometimes only their name is mentioned. This worked out perfectly for me, because although the tone became darker as the story progressed, I really needed to know how the stories of the individual characters were going to end.

Also the book includes some of the most awesome paragraphs ever written (well, thats, like your opinion man) on life in a city, living cities and the way cities should be. It really makes me want to visit Prague, or write about other cities for that matter.
Profile Image for Sezín Koehler.
Author 4 books66 followers
May 15, 2016
I want to give this book 500 Stars. It should be required reading for everyone above the age of 14. Marvelous and heartwrenching account of life in Prague under the Nazi occupation. Initially the novel lulls you into a false sense of comfort that it will be one of these tongue-in-cheek ironic Czech comedies of error, but it quickly turns to a painfully honest account of the things people (are forced to) do when faced with horrific non-choices and the small moments in which they find hope even if there is no redemption to be found. Beautifully translated, gorgeously and clearly written, this is a masterpiece I can't believe I'd never heard of until beginning research on my third novel, also set in Prague with a Holocaust-related backstory. Everyone, please, read this book.
Profile Image for Miri Gifford .
1,567 reviews66 followers
July 26, 2018
I'm tired of World War II stories, because their popularity in our culture seems saccharine, nationalistic, almost fetishistic—an excuse to pat ourselves on the back and fawn over the "glory days" of the "Greatest Generation"—while generally managing to sideline the sickeningly-relevant lessons we should be learning from it. This book was grandfathered in, having been on my list since the day I first joined Goodreads in 2010, and it more than justifies its survival of my many to-read-shelf purges. But it is not for the faint-hearted (as no honest World War II story should be).

This is a dark, dark book. It has a similar feel to Catch-22, but . . . well, darker. Because instead of just the inane bureaucracy and casual cruelty of war, we also have Nazis. Having to read from the perspective of both SS officers and their Jewish captives, the Acting Reich Protector and members of the resistance, the Gestapo and little girls hiding in a cubbyhole behind a cupboard . . . is not easy. There's humor throughout, which makes the brutality all the more gutting. An excellent and painful book.
Profile Image for Meaghan.
1,096 reviews25 followers
March 21, 2011
I really didn't like the author's other book, and so I hesitated to try this one, but I figured, what the heck, the title's great, let's give it a go. I'm really glad I did! I think this book gets a great feel for the atmosphere of chaos, uncertainty and fear in the Holocaust, and you see the lives of the characters (there are a lot of them, many of them not connected to each other) spin around each other and occasionally intersect, and you hold your breath as each person's story comes to its inevitable ending. In this way the book reminded me a lot of the wonderful Every Man Dies Alone.

The only fault I find is that I had a hard time keeping track of all those many characters, and sometimes when their stories would be dropped for awhile and then picked up again, I would have forgotten what was going on before. But it didn't bother me too much.
Profile Image for Val.
2,425 reviews79 followers
July 3, 2015
The story of Mendelssohn's statue is the starting point for this satirical look at Prague under Nazi occupation, told through the lives of various inhabitants of the city. It is as much a collection of related short stories as a novel, as each person's narrative could be seen a a story in itself. Some of the stories are grim, it becomes harder to make fun of the occupiers as their repression continues, but there are a few uplifting moments too. It becomes a testament of life under a brutal regime, tying the stories of typical, but representative, ordinary citizens into factual events.
I was undecided between giving this book four or five stars, until the final story. Jiří Weil saves his story with maximum emotional impact for last and then tells it perfectly.
Profile Image for michal k-c.
560 reviews43 followers
August 3, 2020
Thankfully Kafka existed long enough ago so that when the Shoah happened, there was already an established linguistic model for the horrors of bureaucratic power and misanthropy. only loses a star because it feels a little too unfocused for its length, definitely could've used another 100-200 pages to flesh out some of the storylines in the back half.
Profile Image for Alejandro.
93 reviews4 followers
December 11, 2021
Novela histórica sobre la Praga ocupada durante la IIGM.
Comienza con tono humoristico y acaba en el horror absoluto.
Gran capacidad de Jiri Weil en guiarnos durante ese trayecto.

Profile Image for Courtney Ferriter.
484 reviews23 followers
August 22, 2021
** 4 stars **

Weil’s novel provides a panoramic view of Nazi-occupied Prague. The reader sees the perspectives of SS officials, ordinary Czech citizens, Jews, non-Jews, adults, and children. There is no real protagonist in this story, but Weil uses statues and stone (like the Mendelssohn statue) throughout the novel as recurring motifs.

Although I quite liked the book overall, it was a somewhat disjointed reading experience for me. In the first half or so of the book, there is some dark humor as Weil makes fun of the Nazis’ pettiness and incompetence, especially their attempts to get rid of the statue of Mendelssohn. The second half of the book, however, is a lot more somber and serious. Even so, I would still recommend it if you have an interest in WWII or Holocaust novels, especially since Weil lived through the war and bore witness to what happened.

There are a number of great passages throughout. My favorites are included below:
"Whoever gets mixed up with evil types commits evil deeds and becomes their accessory whether he likes it or not, no matter what excuses he might make to himself, even if his intention had always been to deceive them."

“The country insultingly called the Protectorate was a small country with small joys and pleasures. Because people had to go on living, because they were closed in on all sides, restricted, conscripted, arrested, and killed according to the whims of their conquerors, people looked for small comforts.”

“The trees kept growing, victorious and deathless. They held firm, they served, and when they were forced to die, they died standing up. They weren’t engraved on memory in cold stone, to threaten or remind. They were the life that overpowers death.”
Profile Image for Dana Larose.
384 reviews14 followers
January 2, 2015
Set in Prague during the Nazi occupation in World War 2 and follows the lives of several different, mostly Jewish, characters. It's almost more a collection of loosely connected short stories than a novel.

From the back cover: "Julius Schlesinger, aspiring SS officer, has received his new orders to remove from the roof of Prague's concert hall the statue of the Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn. But which of the figures adorning the roof is the Jew? Remember his course on 'racial science,' Schlesinger instructs his men to pull down the statue with the biggest nose. Only as the statue they have carefully chosen begins to topple does he recognize that it is not Mendelssohn; it is Richard Wagner."

I picked this up in a bookstore in Prague last summer. Read it on the train back to Berlin, got about 2/3 through it and then got distracted by other books when we got home.

Picked it up off my shelf last night.
Profile Image for Karla Huebner.
Author 4 books70 followers
December 3, 2010
When I first read this, about ten years ago, I thought it was quite good, a moving portrayal of Bohemia under German occupation. I still think so, but this time the experience of reading it was very different due to my having lived in Prague and read (or at least skimmed) scads of interwar Czech magazine and newspaper articles, including some by Weil. This time I knew more of the locations personally, recognized many more of the historical references and people mentioned, etc. This naturally made the experience much richer and more vivid.
Profile Image for Nadine.
13 reviews
September 18, 2013
What a sad story about life (and death) under the German occupation of Prague! The beginning is a bit lighter, even funny, with the story of the Mendelssohn statue that has to be torn down as he had Jewish origins. However as there are several statues nobody knows which one is Mendelssohn's! Afterwards the story (or better stories as each chapter seems to be a story of its own) gradually gets a lot more serious describing the desperate struggle of various individuals to survive.
6 reviews
March 29, 2009
Very good book about people living under Nazi occupation outside Prague. Similar to Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francais, but with more irony.
Profile Image for Mila.
694 reviews32 followers
April 16, 2017
I read this quite a few months ago and I thought I'd written a review on it, but I see it's not here. It's too long ago for me to remember the specifics but I know I thought it was amazing.
Profile Image for Derek.
222 reviews13 followers
February 25, 2020
One of the best historical novels about WWII that I have ever read.
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