Readers Digest
Magazine subscription Podcast
HomeCultureBooksBook Reviews

Review: The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler

BY James Walton

1st Jan 2015 Book Reviews

Review: The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler

This German best-seller is one of those books you quite enjoy as you’re reading it—but then find, rather to your surprise, it continues to haunt you long after more showy books have faded from memory, says James Walton.

the tobacconist robert seethaler

In 1937, Franz Huchel, a 17-year-old from rural Austria, moves to Vienna to work in a tobacco shop.

By then, the city is already convulsed by the political upheavals that will lead to Austria’s union with Nazi Germany—and the shop’s owner is already under attack from local thugs for selling to Jews (including the cigar-loving Sigmund Freud, with whom Franz strikes up an unlikely but touching friendship). But once the union has happened, of course, much nastier thugs are running the entire country.



"A novel whose power is somehow both quiet and utterly crunching"



Through all this, The Tobacconist resolutely avoids sensationalism, staying as understated as its own title. For a while, indeed, Franz is more disturbed by his first experience of love than he is by the Nazis.

Nevertheless, by concentrating on the ultimately tragic impact of global history on one thoughtful, slightly strange adolescent, Seethaler ends up giving us a novel whose power is somehow both quiet and utterly crunching at the same time.


Enjoyed this story? Share it!


*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

Loading up next...
Stories by email|Subscription
Readers Digest

Launched in 1922, Reader's Digest has built 100 years of trust with a loyal audience and has become the largest circulating magazine in the world

Readers Digest
Reader’s Digest is a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (which regulates the UK’s magazine and newspaper industry). We abide by the Editors’ Code of Practice and are committed to upholding the highest standards of journalism. If you think that we have not met those standards, please contact 0203 289 0940. If we are unable to resolve your complaint, or if you would like more information about IPSO or the Editors’ Code, contact IPSO on 0300 123 2220 or visit