The Tobacconist

A finalist for the Man Booker Prize, Robert Seethaler's The Tobacconist is a poignant, tragic look at the creeping rise of fascism in Vienna before the outbreak of the Second World War. Told with humor and pity, the novel expertly depicts how easy it is to find, and lose, one's place in the world.

After his benefactor is killed in a storm, country boy Franz Huchel moves to Vienna to begin working at a tobacco shop owned by an old friend of his mother. On the cusp of adulthood and unready for the rush of city life, Franz struggles to adjust, eventually enlisting the aid of none other than Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, to help him make sense of his life. Freud, a patron of the tobacco shop, has long since made his mark on history, yet takes an interest in Franz and his simple ways. But the rise of Nazism in Austria threatens to sweep everything away.

While Freud is a major character in The Tobacconist, Seethaler rightfully keeps Franz front and center, using the older man as a foil for the younger inexperienced one. Their ultimate responses to the encroachment of fascism brilliantly demonstrates how even small actions can give a person meaning in the face of dire threats. Neither Franz nor Freud are heroes, but men trying to make sense of themselves and their increasingly chaotic surroundings as the world goes to hell. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

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