House of Glass

Hadley Freeman

After her grandmother died, Hadley Freeman travelled to her apartment to try and make sense of a woman she’d never really known. Sala Glass was a European expat in America – defiantly clinging to her French influences, famously reserved, fashionable to the end – yet to Hadley much of her life remained a mystery. Sala’s experience of surviving one of the most tumultuous periods in modern history was never spoken about.

When Hadley found a shoebox filled with her grandmother’s treasured belongings, it started a decade-long quest to find out their haunting significance and to dig deep into the extraordinary lives of Sala and her three brothers. The search takes Hadley from Picasso’s archives in Paris to a secret room in a farmhouse in Auvergne to Long Island and to Auschwitz.

By piecing together letters, photos and an unpublished memoir, Hadley brings to life the full story of the Glass siblings for the first time: Alex’s past as a fashion couturier and friend of Dior and Chagall; trusting and brave Jacques, a fierce patriot for his adopted country; and the brilliant Henri who hid in occupied France – each of them made extraordinary bids for survival during the Second World War. And alongside her great-uncles’ extraordinary acts of courage in Vichy France, Hadley discovers her grandmother’s equally heroic but more private form of female self-sacrifice.

A moving memoir following the Glass siblings throughout the course of the twentieth-century as they each make their own bid for survival, House of Glass explores assimilation, identity and home – issues that are deeply relevant today.

Reviews of House of Glass

  • ‘This is a startlingly original book, remarkable and gripping’ Edmund de Waal

    ‘A magnificently vivid re-creation of her Jewish family’s experience of twentieth-century Europe, Hadley Freeman’s book is also an acute examination of the roots, tropes, and persistence of anti-Semitism, which makes it an urgently necessary book for us to read right now’ Salman Rushdie

    ‘This is an utterly engrossing book: one that manages to be an intimate family history and a meticulously researched account of a shocking period of world history at the same time. It may be an overused term of approbation, but it truly is unputdownable’ Nigella Lawson

    ‘House of Glass is extraordinary. It reads like a mystery and a memoir and a gripping history of the last century … Freeman doesn’t hide from the grey spaces people inhabit during wartime, or shy away from drawing the terrifying parallels to today’s iterations of those ancient hatreds. It is a brave and wonderful book’ Nathan Englander

    ‘This deeply moving book is so beautifully written – like hearing a fascinating conversation about the past, then being warmly welcomed into the very heart of it. This is a stunning memoir, and a thrilling detective story. I completely lost myself in its many worlds’ Marina Hyde

    ‘It glitters like a diamond – revealing not only the extraordinary story of the Glass family, but the many facets of twentieth-century Jewish experience. Written with lightness and warmth, this book is both timely and timeless’ Helen Lewis

    ‘By the end, I was completely wrapped up in the sharply contrasting characters of the Glass family, and the parts their different temperaments – trusting or sceptical, outspoken or conciliatory, ambitious or carefree – played in determining their fates … wonderfully lively book’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

    ‘Packs so much thrilling life into its exuberant pages’ Sunday Times

    ‘This utterly marvellous work of family history … astonishing and incredibly moving … From the moment I began it, I could not put this superb book down; it’s a triumph of research, of accomplished and pacy writing, and of thoughtful analysis of what it means to be Jewish today. House of Glass is the kind of book you’ll gladly stay put a whole weekend for… that is exactly what I did’ Bookseller, Book Of The Month

    ‘Spurred by a cache of documents and letters hidden in her dead grandmother’s closet, Hadley Freeman takes us on a vivid journey into her family’s past, as tragic as it is heroic.  Propelled out of Poland by pogroms and poverty, immigrants in France during a decade in which Anti-Semitism grows and takes on the savage dimensions of the Nazi occupation, the members of Freeman’s family mask their identities, escape to America or struggle and succumb to camps, both French and German.  Filled with vibrant characters, rich in historical detail, this excavation also bears the traces of its author’s passion at the injustices of a terrible history, which now again can seem too close for comfort’ Lisa Appignanesi

    ‘Sara’s story is just one of many that are delicately intertwined in this profoundly affecting book… House of Glass flows with the amazing clarity and delicacy of a fine novel. By the end, I was completely wrapped up in the sharply contrasting characters of the Glass family, and the parts their different temperaments – trusting or sceptical, outspoken or conciliatory, ambitious or carefree – played in determining their fates…wonderfully lively book’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

    ‘A capacious family story that brings to vivid life some of the worst, and perhaps also finest, moments of the 20th century … Freeman is a determined and eloquent detective … Above all, she is a splendid creator of character … Like its title, House of Glass signals the precariousness of the condition both Jews and immigrants suffer into our own time … Yet the story Freeman tells is above all a tribute to human bravery and endurance against all odds’ Lisa Appignanesi, Observer

    ‘With high drama, heart-breaking tragedy, thwarted love and walk-on parts for Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Christian Dior, Freeman’s memoir Heart of Glass would feel too neat if it were a novel. It certainly reads like one, and if I were a film director I’d be snapping up the rights…’ JEWISH CHRONICLE

    ‘As engrossing as any novel’ GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

    ‘Beautifully written… breathtakingly compelling’ EVENING STANDARD

    ‘Captivating… Past and present exist in a state of constant interaction, and this finely honed and engaging account draws the threads between then and now’ Philippe Sands, Guardian

    ‘Researched with diligence and written with love, it triggers that same shock of recognition that comes with colourised film; black-and-white history flooded with bright detail, human warmth. House of Glass opens the door on to the past, and its light spills sharply across the present’ Sunday Times

    ‘An achingly poignant history of her Jewish family and the traumas it faced in the 20th century’ Independent