The Vienna Writers Circle by J.C. Maetis

My huge thanks to Georgia Taylor at Penguin for sending me a copy of The The Vienna Writers Circle by J.C. Maetis in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published in paperback by Penguin imprint Viking on 13th April 2023, The Vienna Writers Circle is available for purchase through the links here.

The Vienna Writers Circle


Austria, 1938: The Vienna Writers Circle meets at Café Mozart to share hopeful stories during a hopeless time.

But when the Nazis take over, everything changes. With their Jewish families’ now under threat, the writers hide using false identities, their stories becoming their only salvation.

Then a local policeman begins a dangerous mission to help them. But he faces conflicts of his own: having declared his love for a beautiful Romani-gypsy girl, Deya Reynes, he fears that she too will be sent to her death.

When all they have left is courage, will they survive?

My Review of The The Vienna Writers Circle

The Nazis are in Vienna.

The Vienna Writer’s Circle is a difficult read. This is because it is written with intensity, veracity and menace and the details of the  prologue linger in the reader’s mind making them tense and uneasy throughout. At times, J.C. Maetis writes with such detail and vivid precision, the story’s brutality is almost unbearable. However, The Vienna Writer Circle is also filled with hope, with people like Josef, and those whose bravery and support for others floods the reader with positivity. 

The plot obviously calls on the history of the Second World War and many elements are familiar. However, J.C. Maetis’s meticulous research and fresh approach brings alive the writing culture of Vienna with reference to many real life characters such as Sigmund Freud so that the blend of fact and fiction adds to the pleasure in immersing yourself in the story. Initially, the narrative builds fairly slowly with a more philosophical uncovering of events, but rapidly builds to a fast pace, ending with pulse elevating excitement and indeed, terror. This structure seems to echo the way the rise of Nazism was initially fairly ideological until it translated into brutality with chilling effect. 

The characters are strongly depicted and convincing, but what I found most poignant about the people in The Vienna Writers Circle was the fickleness of humanity, it’s brutality and the way so many are forced to renounce their sense of identity and self. This is a profound theme in the novel as the definition of Jewishness in order to persecute, the need to change identities and to behave out of one’s own moral boundary for self-preservation, and the exploration of mob rule where individual humanity is suppressed is starkly and affectingly conveyed. Add in the constant, underlying anxiety that no-one knows whom they can truly trust and J.C. Maetis engenders similar discomfort in the reader. This makes The Vienna Writers Circle disturbing and effective.

At the risk of stating the obvious, The Vienna Writer’s Circle is about story. The stories we tell ourselves to make life and history palatable, the narratives we construct to enable us to endure life, about real narratives written by created and actual writers, and about the power of storytelling in humanity – indeed in life and death.

I can’t say I necessarily ‘enjoyed’ The Vienna Writers Circle because it was so convincing and far too redolent of what is happening in modern Europe today, but I found it totally compelling and very moving. This is a novel that feels raw, intelligent and far too realistic. I thought it was excellent and a must read for those who are fascinated by the era. Its effect resonates long after it’s read.

About J.C. Maetis

J.C. Maetis is better known as British thriller writer John Matthews whose books have sold over 1.6 million copies and been translated in 14 languages. Maetis is the name of his father’s Jewish family, who left Lithuania for London in 1919 in the wake of Jewish pogroms. However, many of his extended family sadly died when Hitler invaded Lithuania in 1941, and so this book is a tribute to them. Maetis now lives in Surrey, England, and is working on his second book, The Fortune Teller of Berlin.

For further information you can follow J.C. Maetis on Twitter @JohnMat85980724.

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