Vienna Dolorosa

By Mykola Dementiuk

Synergy Press 2007

256 pages including Cast of Characters and Glossary

 

I’ve lived all my life in Tornado Alley. Hundreds of times I’ve felt the heavy oppression of motionless air, watched greenish-black clouds pile up on the horizon, and known that something terrible, beyond my control, was developing. Vienna Dolorosa levied the same sense of foreboding.

 

The story takes place in a single day in 1938, at various locations in Vienna on the last day before the Nazi takeover.  The majority of the action occurs in the Hotel Redl, a down-at-heels hotel saved from complete failure by the advent of an intriguing, intelligent creature named Friska Bielinska. But Friska is not quite what she appears to be, and neither is the Hotel Redl. The Redl has tourist rooms but it also has a secret: it’s a brothel for men who like boys dressed as girls.

 

The story is told through the denizens of the hotel/brothel. These people include a brown-shirted Nazi official who becomes the victim of the most hideously vicious attack you will ever read, something for which I was as unprepared as he was. There is a street urchin named Petya who is a survivor of poverty and abuse, who sells himself to live. Petya is clever, tough, and surprisingly sweet. Another is a buxom hotel maid who likes women though she delights in teasing men. Others are: the owner of the hotel, an aging dandy, and a Jewish tourist couple. Most of all there is Friska.

 

Friska is slim, attractive, and feminine in her manners and attire. Adversity in her own life has made her compassionate, someone who cares about people, whether they are customers or her boy/girls. And she is a he. Friska is referred to throughout as “she” because, as we would say today, she identifies as a woman. If the story had been set in the 21st century instead of 1938 I suspect the author would have made her transgendered instead of a transvestite.

 

Most of the action is appallingly brutal, and much of it is carried out either by Nazis or with the approval of Nazi officials, including the arrest and horrific punishment of one of their own caught with another man. The villains are monstrous but identifiably human—the policemen carrying out punishments, the SS, the soldiers, the citizens who turn upon anyone who is or appears to be different, or who simply has angered them for some reason. The major players are complex, especially the noble-spirited Friska, and Petya, whom you want to rescue and protect. 

 

Vienna Dolorosa has been denounced as pornographic, but pornography is intended to titillate and arouse; anybody who gets aroused by the events in Vienna Dolorosa has a serious problem. It’s true there is an overwhelming amount of graphic sex and graphic violence of every description but each incident builds the story brick by horrifying brick. It is said that truth is in the eye of the beholder; the author puts faces on the faceless victims of violence and forces you to behold. There are no funny, fat, stupid Sgt. Schultzes among Dementiuk’s Nazis, and no happy endings.

 

The narration is very good, written with a wonderful eye for detail. Sometimes it is intrusive and takes the reader out of the moment (on the other hand, perhaps that is a kindness!)  However, except for the intrusiveness, I find the historic narration to be a clear and passionate commentary on one momentous 24-hour period and what led to it.

 

I have only a few quibbles, which are as follow.

 

The characters of the incestuous father and pregnant teenage daughter are extraneous. They didn’t really add anything to the story that I could see, and they clogged an already large cast.

 

Two situations struck a jarring chord. The gang-raped woman has orgasms with each rapist and her reaction and movements afterward are unrealistic. The same applies to the young girl who gives birth. Though the birth and death of her baby are dreadful in its graphicness, the follow-up is unrealistic and unconvincing. Rape is traumatic, physically and mentally. Childbirth is painful for grown women, let alone a simpleminded young girl who doesn’t understand what is happening. Yet other than superficially, neither the young woman who was raped nor the victimized girl seem to be much affected once it’s over.

 

I also feel that Kurt’s ultimate fate, about halfway through the story, goes way over the line of gratuitous violence. In my opinion the horror could have been effectively stopped with the surgical scene, which was sickening enough. The story didn’t need the additional assault, which stopped my reading for several days. (I won’t detail more than that because I don’t want to create a spoiler.)

 

I recommend Vienna Dolorosa with the following caveats. DON’T read this book if you have a weak stomach, are faint of heart, or are offended by ‘alternate lifestyles’. DON’T read it if you are looking for escapism because there is no escape in this book, not for the characters and not for the reader. On the other hand, if you can read historical accounts of hatred, genocide, and atrocities, if you want to read a brilliant and extremely disturbing book, you should read Vienna Dolorosa.  Just take it in short doses.

 

To buy the book go to www.ViennaDolorosa.com 

Vienna Dolorosa will soon be available on Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements