New Books: Information & Extracts

Patrick Leigh Fermor

An Adventure
Artemis Cooper
Publisher
John Murray
Price
£25.00
ISBN
9780719554490

 

So much for birthday comforts. It was raining heavily, his boots were leaking and he was hungry - all good enough reasons to hitch a lift in the back of a truck, where he found a girl called Trudi taking some eggs and a drake in a basket to her aunt. It was still raining when Paddy and Trudi were dropped off, and together they squelched through the outer suburbs of Vienna. The atmosphere was dark and tense: they had to pass barbed-wire checkpoints manned by soldiers with rifles, and in the distance they could hear the ominous [booming of guns and mortar fire. Trudi bade him goodbye and he went on alone, heading for the Heilsarmee, the Salvation Army hostel.

Paddy liked to think that, if he looked in the right way, he could still see Europe as the Congress of Vienna had left it: a sort of eternal, cultural Europe that lay untouched behind its cities, factories and railway lines; a continent where peasant life was dictated by the round of the seasons and the feasts of the Church, where strange costumes were worn as real clothes and not donned for the tourist trade, where passing from a beer-drinking region to a wine-drinking region was like passing an invisible frontier. Yet the Great War and the peace conference that followed had wrought changes so profound and far-reaching that Europe had already altered beyond recognition. Nowhere was this more true than in Vienna. Once the heart of a great empire, it was now the capital of a country that felt so reduced that the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig described it as 'a mutilated stump which bled from every vein'.21

The cold, starving years of the early twenties, accompanied by unemployment and rampant inflation, had concentrated the Austrian working class round the banner of the Social Democratic Party which was large and well organized. It was feared not only by the government, but by the Heimwehr - traditionalist, Catholic, anti-Communist militias formed in the aftermath of the war, whose present leader was the young Prince Starhemberg.

On 12 February 1934 in Linz, members of the Heimwehr broke into the Social Democrat Party headquarters looking for weapons. Riots began, spread to the capital, and fighting went on for three days, with government forces deploying artillery in the working-class areas of the city. Over a hundred civilians, including women and children, were killed, and over three hundred wounded.22