It shouldn’t take much to convince someone to visit the Austrian capital, but these books may offer some assistance—especially if the stubborn party is a bookworm. Set in the city’s iconic coffee houses and in the beautiful Bordone Room of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, they offer a glimpse into life in the city through the ages and show the rich culture that Vienna is famed for.
The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago
Written by Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago, this 2008 novel is an embellished version of the true story of Solomon the Elephant. Given as an unconventional wedding gift from King João III of Portugal to Archduke Maximilian in 1551, Solomon, accompanied by his keeper Subhro, make the long journey from Lisbon across Europe, trekking through Italian cities of Genoa, Piacenza, Mantua, Verona, Venice, and Trento, across the Alps, and then over the sea to reach imperial Vienna. Filled with adventure and excitement, it is a perfect holiday book.
Vienna Passion by Lilian Faschinger
This book is as exotic as its title as it tells the story of Rosa, a chambermaid, royal mistress, and murderer, whose life and experiences parallel turn-of-the-century Vienna—for better or for worse. Faschinger has also written various feminist works exploring Austrian society and customs.
Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard
Set in Vienna over one day in the 1980s, Old Masters is a narrated by Atzbacher, who meets music critic Reger in the Bordone Room of the Kunsthistorisches Museum where Reger has sat every day—on the same bench—for 30 years. The two then embark on a philosophical journey together, attempting to understand the complexities of life and the death of Reger’s wife. A heavy and complex piece of work, the author, Thomas Bernhard, is considered to be one of the most important German-speaking authors of the post-war era, and the book offers an insight into the life of the city after World War II.
The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
This novel doesn’t begin in the Austrian capital; instead, it starts in America where the Berry family live in New Hampshire. After meeting a Viennese Jew and circus entertainer named Freud, Win Berry is inspired to transform an abandoned school into a hotel. However, after a series of tragic events, the family receive a letter from Freud inviting them to instead help him set up his business in Vienna.
‘Buchmendel’ by Stefan Zweig
Stefan Zweig is one of Austria’s most influential literary figures and his popularity extends all over the world. A friend of fellow Austrian intellectual Sigmund Freud, he was a staunch supporter of psychoanalysis and cited Freud as encouraging himself and fellow writers to overcome their anxieties in order to write. ‘Buchmendel’, a short story, is set inside Vienna’s coveted coffee houses brought to life during the era in which it is set. The central character, Jakob Mendel, is a brilliant book trader who is falsely accused of fraternising with Austria’s enemies and sent to a concentration camp during World War I. Read it inside a Viennese coffee house for ultimate authenticity.