The Glassblower, by Petra Durst-Benning, is a little slow to get into, but the story of the Steinmann sisters and their struggles in glassblowing soon drew me in. With the death of their father, Johanna, Ruth, and Marie have lost their last parent and their income. Life becomes frighteningly uncertain, and the young women face near-starvation.
One sister ponders an offer to become involved in the wholesale end of the glass trade. Another chooses marriage. The third accepts a penurious wage at a glass factory.
The young women’s lives are marred with dissension and loneliness as they struggle to survive. Their work ethic proves their greatest asset. Daily, Johanna walks hours to reach the town where her new job places her in the path of an evil man. Marie, in secret, dares to blow glass, an art practiced only by men. Beautiful Ruth leaves Germany, but not before aiding her sisters in ways no one could have dreamed.
The men who enter their lives are both helpful and harmful. One is an American businessman of influence and stature, another is a cruel drunk, and the third is a simple villager. These men dramatically alter the sisters’ thinking about their lives and even provoke them to take on new and daring careers.
In the end, very different roles are played out by the Steinmann women, and, surprisingly, they affect each other in positive ways. Their world is rapidly changing as the 20th Century arrives. The Steinmanns’ choices and their new ways of living astound even them.
As a reader, I was enchanted with the little-known world of glassblowing, which the author describes with aplomb. The Glassblower was first a German publication (2003), and in 2014 was published by AmazonCrossing. The book is ably translated into English by Samuel Willcocks. The author lives in Stuttgart, and writes historical fiction set in Germany, France, Russia and America.
The Glassblower is the first of a trilogy set at the turn of the 19th Century in Lauscha, a small village at that time. Today it is the glassblowing capital of Germany. I’ve just ordered the second book.