Hardcover, 282 pages
Published: April 1, 1998 by St. Martin’s Press (1st published September 7, 1997)
Setting: England & Austria
Ellen is a conundrum to her mother and two doting aunts. Passionate suffragettes and civil rights activists, they have spent their lives helping turn the conventional role of women on its head. Yet Ellen passes up the chance to pursue higher education, and she loves to cook, clean, and nurture people.
Her passion for cooking and nurturing leads her to a position as housemother at an eccentric Austrian boarding school. The local villagers warn her away from the Hallendorf School — a “devilish” place where atheism prevails, children run wild, and their eccentric professors insist that everyone swim in the nude. Nonjudgmental and passionate about what she does, Ellen sets to work cleaning, making excellent meals, and looking after her flock of neglected children from wealthy families.
Ellen meets many interesting characters at Hallendorf School, including Tamara, an Englishwoman who has reinvented herself as a Russian ballerina, Hermine, the mother of Andromeda, the “self regulating baby,” who never uses diapers, and the mysterious and resourceful Marek, who has a secret mission. Along the way, Ellen helps a Jewish refugee escape from Germany, finds romance, and eventually returns to England to provide loved ones a safe haven during the war.
A Song for Summer is a delightful novel with several plot twists. The author uses gentle humor, with light shades of Jane Austen, and takes you to the Austrian countryside, pre-World War II Vienna, and London during German bombings. I enjoyed the cast of likable, eccentric characters, and I loved the scenic views of the Austrian countryside, glimpses of European culture, and bits of world history. This book also explores the world of classical music, which adds another rich dimension. This novel will be well loved by aficionados of light, colorful historical fiction.