by Jerome Charyn
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 19 Nov 2020 | Archive Date 19 Nov 2020
Oldcastle Books, No Exit Press
On a windy night in 1937, a seventeen-year-old German naval sub-cadet is wandering along the seawall when he stumbles upon a gang of ruffians beating up a tramp, whose life he saves. The man is none other than spymaster Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, German military intelligence. Canaris adopts the young man and dubs him “Cesare” after the character in the silent film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari for his ability to break through any barrier as he eliminates the Abwehr’s enemies.
Canaris is a man of contradictions who, while serving the regime, seeks to undermine the Nazis and helps Cesare hide Berlin’s Jews from the Gestapo. But the Nazis will lure many to Theresienstadt, a phony paradise in Czechoslovakia with sham restaurants, novelty shops, and bakeries, a cruel ghetto and way station to Auschwitz. When the woman Cesare loves, a member of the Jewish underground, is captured and sent there, Cesare must find a way to rescue her.
'Charyn conjures up a narrative punctuated with powerful imagery. . . . In a novel full of its share of the grotesque, it takes an artist with a precise touch such as Charyn to achieve such artful results' - Comics Grinder
'Deftly written and original. . . . Unreservedly recommended' - Midwest Book Review
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 4 members
'One of the most intriguing fiction writers' says Oprah Winfrey about author Jerome Charyn who has also used his imaginative fiction to cover subjects as wide ranging as Roosevelt to Abraham Lincoln. But here his take on the underbelly of the Nazis in Berlin is combined with a fable of extraordinary creativity mixing dark grotesque figures that themselves lie in wait for the servants of Hitler and his SS above. There is a lot to learn beyond the basic history of the war as it was affecting Germany for through the main character Erik Holdermann (Cesare) the somnambulist/magician we move from early childhood and orphanage to the cadet training for future Nazis and to the spy and espionage webs working to try at all attempts to undermine any opposition to the Nazi plan to control the country and then the world. Sometimes the plot is chaotic and a little confusing but the characters are strong with Erik and Lisa the daughter of the Baron figures that weave their very violent and passionate romance against the high echelons of the Nazi party. I liked the use of particular buildings in Berlin - which when I researched the names were actual places that had moved from the wild decadence of Berlin cabaret to the network of closed (supposedly) shunned places to Hitler such as the Adlon Hotel and The White Mouse Cabaret. It seemed the Nazis were at their best when of course seeking out the very elements they themselves so despised. Of course the position of the Jews plays a vital role in the plot with Cesare trying under threat of death himself to help secure escape for Jews from under the vice like grip of the Nazis circling their homes, businesses, synagogues and clubs. The author leads us into the cruelty of the mechanisms by which the Nazis planned their execution camps 'starting' by picking on children with disabilities (under the Aktion T4 scheme of which I'd never heard). The fable theme is also expanded with the link to a famous 1919 German film 'Das Kabinett des Dr Caligari' (who also appears as a character. This was seen as one of the first horror films about the magician Caligari and his slave Cesare who sleeps in a coffin. We also come across horror images linked to fairy tales (never as innocent as we believe) with Hansel and Gretel as soldiers taking a guillotine around the countryside and the Berlin Werewolf. if it's all too much thrown at one plot maybe just stop and think even with the the seemingly unbelievable images being presented to us in this thought provoking book they can never be as horrific as the real world under the Nazi regime.