Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review: The Death of the Adversary by Hans Keilson

This novel is set in Nazi-occupied Europe, although it is never mentioned. There is no guessing here. The adversary is the Führer (referred to as “my enemy”) and the word Nazi is never used. All of this creates an atmosphere where the protagonist fails to come to grips with the reality of the ascendance of National Socialism and the relationship between subject matter and context. Written as memoir, we see how a person who is just as caught up in the culture of his homeland as those who seek to make him an enemy, can only see himself with detachment as a way to protectively shield himself from certain truths, not only about himself but about the horror in the making. This dichotomy is never clearer than when the protagonist (unknown to be a Jew) is sitting with the friends (Nazi thugs) of a girl he has a crush on and them talking about an assignment to desecrate a Jewish cemetery. This is as haunting a scene as you will ever come across in fiction. The prose is astonishing: part philosophy, part psychology, and part poetry—combined to point out the failure of coming to grips with reality. Because of the anonymous nature of the people and places, I was able to transpose this story to a new time, here in America, where the hatred toward Muslims could have the same effect on a young Muslim man who also grew up an American. Certainly a masterpiece!

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