In his dual biography of the two bloodiest butchers and worst moral monsters of the twentieth century, Stalin and Hitler (but is Mao not up there with them? and does Pol Pot not get a look-in?), Alan Bullock reprints side by side class photographs of young Iosif and young Adolf taken in 1889 and 1899 respectively, in other words, when each was about ten.* Peering at the two faces, one tries to descry some quiddity, some dark halo, some sly intimation of the horrors to come; but the photographs are old, definition is poor, one cannot be sure, and besides, a camera is not a divining tool.
The class photograph test—What will be the destinies of these children? Which of them will go the furthest?—has a particular pointedness in the cases of Stalin and Hitler. Is it possible that some of us are evil from the moment we leave our mother’s womb? If not, when does evil enter us, and how? Or, to put the question in a less metaphysical form, how is it that some of us never develop a restraining moral conscience? In regard to Stalin and Hitler, did the fault lie in the way they were reared? With educational practices in Georgia and Austria of the late nineteenth century? Or did the boys in fact develop a conscience, and then at some later time lose it: were Iosif and Adolf, at the time they were photographed, still normal, sweet lads, and did they turn into monsters later, as a consequence perhaps of the books they read, or the company they kept, or the pressures of their times? Or was there nothing special about them after all, early or late: did the script of history simply demand two butchers, a Butcher of Germany and a Butcher of Russia; and had Iosif Dzhugashvili and Adolf Hitler not been in the right place at the right time, would history have found another pair of actors, just as good (that is, just as bad), to play the roles?
These are not questions that biographers are happy to face. There are limits to what we will ever know for a fact about young Stalin and young Hitler, about their home environment, their education, their early friendships, early influences on them. The leap from the meager factual record to the inner life is a huge one, one that historians and biographers (the biographer conceived of as historian of the individual) are understandably reluctant to take. So if we want to know what went on in those two child souls, we will have to turn to the poet and the kind of truth the poet offers, which is not the same as the historian’s.
Which is where Norman Mailer enters the picture. Mailer has never regarded poetic truth as truth of an inferior variety. From An American Dream and Advertisements for Myself through The Armies of the Night and Why Are We in Vietnam? through The Executioner’s Song and Marilyn he has felt free to follow the spirit and the methods of fictional inquiry to gain access to the truth of our times, in an enterprise that may be riskier than the historian’s but offers richer rewards. The subject of his new book is Hitler. Hitler may belong to the past, but the past he belongs to is still alive or at least undead. In The Castle in the Forest Mailer has written the story of the young Hitler, and specifically the story of how young Hitler came to be possessed by evil forces.
The genealogical descent of Adolf Hitler is tangled and, by Nuremberg standards, not entirely kosher. His father, Alois, was the illegitimate son of a woman named Maria Anna Schicklgruber. The most likely candidate for paternity, Johann Nepomuk Hüttler, was also the grandfather, through another liaison, of Klara Pölzl, Alois’s niece and third wife, mother of Adolf. Alois Schicklgruber legitimized himself as Alois Hitler (his choice of spelling) at the age of forty, some years before he married the much younger Klara. The rumor never entirely died down, however, that Alois’s real father—and therefore Adolf’s grandfather—was a Jew named Frankenberger. There were even dark hints that Klara was Alois’s natural daughter.
Once he entered political life in the 1920s, Adolf Hitler did everything he could to hide and even falsify his genealogy. This may or may not have been because he believed he had a Jewish forebear. In the early 1930s, opposition newspapers tried to discredit the anti-Semite Hitler by pointing to a Jew in his family closet; their efforts came to an abrupt end when the Nazis took power.
Through his own efforts, Alois Hitler rose from the peasantry to the middle ranks of the Austrian customs service. With Klara he had three children; he also brought into the household two children from a previous marriage. One of these children, Alois Junior, ran away from home to lead a roaming, partly criminal (also bigamous) life. Alois Junior’s son William Patrick Hitler (by an Irish mother) tried ineffectually to blackmail the Führer over family secrets before emigrating in 1939 to the United States, where, after a spell on the lecture circuit as an expert on his uncle, he joined the Navy.
In Mein Kampf (My Struggle), the book he wrote while in jail in 1924, Hitler gives a highly sanitized version of his origins. Nothing about incest, nothing about illegitimacy, certainly nothing about Jewish forebears, nothing even about siblings. Instead we are presented with a story of a bright little boy who resists a domineering (yet beloved) father who wants him to follow in his footsteps in the civil service. Determined to become an artist, the boy deliberately fails his school examinations, thus thwarting his father’s plans. At this point the father providentially dies, and the boy, with the backing of his even more beloved mother, is freed to follow his destiny.
The story about deliberately doing badly at school is a patent rationalization. Adolf was a bright boy but not, as he liked to think, a genius. Convinced that success was his due simply because of who he was, he disdained study. Once he moved from junior school to Realschule, technical high school, he fell further and further behind the class and was eventually asked to leave.
The world would have been a happier place if Alois Senior had had his way and Adolf had become a pen-pusher in the obscurer reaches of the Austrian bureaucracy, but that was not to be. Alois certainly chastised his son, as most fathers did in those days, and much has been made of those beatings by biographers. In the case of Stalin, beatings at the hand of his father, an illiterate cobbler, gave rise to a seething vengefulness for which the Russian people eventually had to pay. In Hitler’s case, if one accepts Erik Erikson’s analysis, beatings and other displays of paternal power engendered in the boy a determination not to become a paterfamilias himself, but to assume instead in the imagination of the German people the identity of the implacably rebellious son, focus of the admiration of millions of other sons and daughters with the memory of past humiliations burning in their breast. In either case, the lesson seems to be that corporal punishment is a bad idea—that a culture in which young male pride is forcefully humiliated risks provoking the return of the repressed, magnified a thousandfold.
All of the strife between Alois Senior and Adolf is present in Mailer’s novel, though for a change seen as much from the father’s side as from the son’s. The much-maligned domestic tyrant Alois comes across sympathetically as a canny customs officer, a husband proud of his virility despite advancing years, a devoted but luckless amateur beekeeper, a man of little school-learning anxiously climbing the social ladder. The scenes in which Alois struggles not to make a fool of himself during gatherings with fellow small-town notables are worthy of the Flaubert of Bouvard and Pécuchet.
Mailer’s Adolf is, by contrast, an unappealing, whining, manipulative child riven with incestuous desires and Oedipal jealousies and deeply unforgiving. There is a bad smell about him that he cannot get rid of; he also has a habit of voiding his bowels when he is frightened. His most shocking act is deliberately to infect his attractive, much-loved younger brother Edmund with measles:
“Why are you kissing me?” asked Edmund.
“Because I love you.”
…[He] kissed Edmund repeatedly, a boy’s kiss full of slobbering, and Edmund kissed him back. He was so happy that Adi [Adolf] did love him after all.
Edmund dies, according to plan; Adolf is left in triumphant possession of the nest.
When young Adolf said he wanted to be an artist, it was not because he had an all-devouring love of art but because he wanted to be acknowledged as a genius, and becoming a great artist seemed to him the quickest way for an obscure youth with little money and no connections to get that acknowledgment. By the time he entered politics in the 1920s, he had dropped his artistic pretensions and found himself a more congenial role model. Frederick II of Prussia, Frederick the Great, had become his idol: in the last months of the war, besieged in his bunker in Berlin, he would for diversion listen to recitals from the biography of Frederick by Thomas Carlyle, anti-democrat, Germanophile, propagandist in chief for the great man theory of history.
Hitler was obsessed with his place in history, that is to say, with the question of how his actions in the present would be seen from the future. “For me there are two possibilities,” he told Albert Speer: “to succeed with my plans entirely, or to fail. If I succeed, I will be one of the greatest men in history—if I fail, I will be condemned, rejected, and damned.”
In the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky there are two drifters on the fringes of Russian society, Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment and Stavrogin in The Possessed, who think they can take a shortcut to great man status by divorcing goodness from greatness and committing what they fancy to be great crimes: hatcheting old women to death, for example, or violating children.
The confluence of the notion of the genius—the human being of near-divine creative power, far in advance of the herd—with the notion of the great man, the man who both exemplifies and brings to their highest pitch the qualities of the age, who writes history rather than being written by it, contaminated further with the notion of the great criminal, the rebel whose Luciferian acts challenge the norms of society, had a powerful formative effect on the character of Hitler. There is a hint in Mein Kampf that he was first exposed to great man theory by a history teacher at school. He confirmed himself as a genius by the time he was fifteen. As for great crimes (for which, as Stavrogin recognizes, little-seeming crimes qualify as long as they are squalid, mean-minded, perverse, and vile enough), life in the Hitler household, at least in Mailer’s version of it, provided sufficient opportunity for young Adolf to practice these.
Hitler had neither the historical awareness nor the distance from himself to recognize to what a degree he was in the grip of Romantic great man theory; nor is it likely that, had he recognized it, he would have wanted to shake it off.
Marxism famously questions the power of individual agents to impose their will on history. Finding that particular thesis of Marxism inconvenient, Stalin, who as much as Hitler aspired to be famous, restored great man theory to Marxist doctrine in the form of what would later be called the cult of personality. The route he himself took to the pinnacle of greatness was more direct than Hitler’s. The verdict of history, in Stalin’s eyes, pivoted on who wrote the history books. Accordingly he used his Short Course in the History of the All-Union Communist Party, 1948 edition, compulsory reading in schools, to pronounce history’s judgment on himself. As commander in chief of the Soviet armed forces, he wrote, “his genius enabled him to divine the enemy’s plans and defeat them” at every turn. As for the arts of peace,
although he performed the task of leader of the Party with consummate skill and enjoyed the unreserved support of the entire Soviet people, [he] never allowed his work to be marred by the slightest hint of vanity, conceit or self-adulation.
With no father around to annoy him, and a pliant mother to supply his needs, Adolf took a two-year break after high school, staying at home, reading all night (Karl May, German author of Wild West yarns, was a favorite), getting up late, sketching, desultorily strumming the piano. This is where The Castle in the Forest winds to an end.
According to his publishers, Mailer is planning a trilogy that will cover the whole of Hitler’s earthly life. Mailer himself hints that the second volume will take us through the 1930s, and will center on Hitler’s affair with his niece Angelika (Geli) Raubal. The affair with Geli happens already to have been covered by Ron Hansen in Hitler’s Niece (1999), a novel that lists heavily under the weight of undigested historical research but contains one episode—on Hitler’s (imagined) sexual proclivities—worthy of Mailer at his most scabrous. Mailer’s second volume, if it comes to be written, will presumably take in not only Geli but also the years Hitler spent in pre-war Vienna, as well as his spell in the German army, when he underwent his political awakening. Nonetheless, the implication of The Castle in the Forest is that the malign kernel of the woe to be visited on the world was well developed by 1905, when Hitler was sixteen. If we are seeking the truth of Adolf Hitler, the poetic truth, Mailer would seem to say, the years from his conception and birth to the end of his schooling will provide material enough.
It is of course a truism that character is formed in our early years, that the child is father to the man. But there were thousands of little boys in Austria who loved their mothers and resented their fathers and did badly at school, yet did not turn into mass murderers. Unless one is prepared to make a leap of the kind that Mailer makes, from fidelity to the real to intuitive insight, no amount of reworking of the meager historical record of Hitler’s childhood will reveal what was special about him, what set him apart from his contemporaries.
With Hitler’s move from the provinces to the capital in 1906 the picture changes. The record becomes fuller. We can follow his movements, track down the people he met, read the books and newspapers he read, listen to the music he heard. A different kind of biographical novel becomes possible.
In 1907 Hitler took the entrance examination to the Vienna Art Academy. To his surprise and annoyance, he failed. “Test Drawing Unsatisfactory” was the verdict of the examiners; they advised that he try architecture instead. Since he lacked the technical background for the study of architecture, he could not follow their advice. So he spent the next year hanging around in Vienna, living in boardinghouses, writing letters home in which he kept alive the fiction that he was a student at the academy, reading copiously, going to the opera whenever he could afford it. Wagner was his favorite composer: he claimed to have attended at least thirty performances of Tristan and Isolde. Sexually he remained chaste or at least self-sufficient: he had a horror of being infected with syphilis.
Called back to Linz to his mother’s sickbed, he nursed her through agonizing cancer. After she died, he returned to Vienna and failed the Art Academy examination a second time. There was a bitter winter when his funds ran out and he had to resort to a shelter for the homeless. Then, with the help of an acquaintance, he began to sell his paintings, and the future looked brighter. He took up residence in a working-men’s club, pursuing the life of a part-time artist catering to the tourist market. In 1913 he quit Vienna in favor of Munich, where he settled in the bohemian quarter. The move may or may not have been in response to call-up papers from the Austrian military.
The Vienna years cry out for a novel of a certain kind, a novel that will do for Hitler’s Vienna what the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge do for Rilke’s Paris or Hunger for Knut Hamsun’s Oslo: blend inward and outward experience, give us not only the world in which the subject moved but also how he felt about it and responded to it. With the backing of scholarly investigations like Brigitte Hamann’s Hitler’s Vienna (1996), the novelist who takes up the challenge might not merely follow the strands of National Socialist ideology back to their origins, but enable us to understand how and why they came to be woven together in Hitler’s mind.
Of the aspects of Hitler’s Vienna period on which the historically minded novelist might build, I mention three. First, despite at times being hungry and even desperate, Hitler disdained manual labor. Second, he hated Vienna. Third, in this phase of his life he can legitimately be called an artist and intellectual, albeit an undistinguished one.
Hitler disdained manual labor because he thought it incompatible with his status—a tenuous status, considering his defective education and the fact that his parents were born peasants—as a member of the lower middle class. His hostility to socialism grew out of a well-founded anxiety about being sucked into a lumpen(ragged) proletariat of workless rural migrants streaming to the capital from all quarters of the empire.
He disliked Vienna because in Vienna for the first time he was made to realize that, as an ethnic German, he belonged to a minority—albeit a powerful one—in a multiethnic state. On the streets he had to rub shoulders with, and even compete with, people who spoke unintelligible languages, dressed differently, smelled strange: Slovenians, Czechs, Slovaks, Magyars, Jews. A xenophobia that was at first suspicious and defensive, a provincial youth’s mistrust of foreigners, hardened to become intolerant, aggressive, and finally genocidal.
Hitler may not have been much of an artist (he always had trouble with the human figure—a telling weakness), but there is no denying that, at least in his early years, he was an intellectual of sorts. He read incessantly (though only what he liked), he was interested in ideas (though only in ideas that fitted his preconceptions) and believed in their power, he involved himself in the arts (though his tastes were unshakably provincial and prematurely conservative).
From the wealth of new ideas to which he was exposed, he made a selection which he cobbled together to compose the philosophy of National Socialism. The pseudo-anthropology of Guido von List made a deep impression on him. List divided mankind into an Aryan master race, originating in the northernmost fastnesses of Europe, and a race of slaves with whom the Aryans had regrettably miscegenated over the centuries. He urged the recovery of the pure Aryan blood-line by strict sexual segregation from the slave race, via the creation of a state comprising Aryan masters and non-Aryan slaves ruled over by a Führer who would be above the law.
Another of the charlatans under whose influence Hitler fell was Lanz von Liebenfels, founder of the Order of the New Templars and publisher of the magazine Ostara, of which he was an avid reader. Liebenfels was an extreme misogynist who saw women as lower beings attracted by their nature to “primitive-sensual dark men of inferior races.” What Hitler knew of racial science and eugenics, and later imported into National Socialist policy, came not from scientific reading but filtered through popularizers and vulgarizers like Liebenfels.
All in all, the adventures of Adolf Hitler in the realm of ideas provide a cautionary tale against letting an impressionable young person loose to pursue his or her education in a state of total freedom. For seven years Hitler lived in a great European city in a time of ferment from which emerged some of the most exciting, most revolutionary thought of the new century. With an unerring eye he picked out not the best but the worst of the ideas around him. Because he was never a student, with lectures to attend and reading lists to follow and fellow students to argue with and assignments to complete and examinations to sit, the half-baked ideas he made his own were never properly challenged. The people he associated with were as ill-educated, volatile, and undisciplined as himself. No one in his circle had the intellectual command to put his chosen authorities in their place as what they were: disreputable and even comical mountebanks.
Normally a society can tolerate, even look benignly upon, a layer of autodidacts and cranks on the fringes of its intellectual institutions. What is singular about the career of Hitler is that through a confluence of events in which luck played some part, he was able not only to spread his nonsensical philosophy among his German countrymen but to put it into practice across Europe, with consequences known to all.
By his own account, Hitler turned political only in late 1918, when, upon hearing that Germany had surrendered on humiliating terms, he vowed to dedicate himself at all costs to winning back for the Fatherland its rightful place in Europe. For such a reawakening, he determined, Germany would need a strong leader prepared first to purge the Volk of Jews, Communists, homosexuals, and other inferior elements. Before 1918 Hitler was one among thousands of semi-educated dreamers with their heads stuffed full of mystical racist nonsense; after 1918 he became a positive danger to mankind. Can we therefore say that in late 1918, when he made his at all costsvow, he entered into a pact with the devil and evil entered his soul?
To the historian this question may make little sense. Yet to anyone who searches the face of the little boy in the 1899 photograph, cognizant of the suffering this same little boy will in the fullness of time willfully wreak upon the world, it has convincing force. “Most well-educated people,” writes Mailer through his unnamed mouthpiece,
are ready to bridle at the notion of such an entity as the Devil…. There need be no surprise, then, that the world has an impoverished understanding of Adolf Hitler’s personality. Detestation, yes, but understanding of him, no—he is, after all, the most mysterious human being of the century.
The question When did evil enter Hitler’s soul? thus has a most definite meaning to Mailer. His answer is At the instant of his conception, in much the same way that God, in Christian dogma, was present at, and entered into, the conception of Jesus. In Mailer’s story, the devil had possession of Adolf Hitler from nine months before his birth in April 1889 until the day he died in 1945, to do his bidding in the world.
An answer of this form requires some theological and metaphysical buttressing, which Mailer (with a nod to John Milton) does not hesitate to supply. As there is a God, in Mailer’s account, so there is a devil-in-chief, whom his underlings call the Maestro. Each has a vision of what this world of ours can be, but since neither is all-powerful neither can fully impose his vision. The twelve-year Third Reich represents one of the Maestro’s triumphs; no doubt God has his victories too, though none are on display in Mailer’s book.
The story of young Adolf is narrated by one of the middle-ranking devils in the infernal organization, a functionary charged with keeping an eye on him, ensuring that he does not stray from the paths of wickedness. Adolf is not this devil’s sole assignment: in 1895 he has to take a forty-five-page break to thwart God’s benign plan for the Romanovs in Russia, and in 1898 a briefer break to oversee the assassination of Empress Elizabeth of Austria.
The kind of existence led by the immortals can never mean much to mortal beings. The account that Mailer provides, through his narrator, of eons-long low-level warfare between celestial and infernal forces, and of interoffice feuding within the infernal bureaucracy, though deftly enough done, is the least interesting aspect of his novel. But at least the answer he gives to the question about Adolf in the class photograph is a straight one. Yes, Adolf was bad even in 1899. He was a bad child before he was a bad man, and he was a bad baby before he was a bad child. Alois and Klara Hitler are convincing portraits of people doing their best as parents, given that they are human and human nature is frail, given also that they have superhuman forces ranged against them; Adolf is equally convincing as a chilling and repellent child. Despite the supernatural interventions, Mailer has not descended to writing a novel of the supernatural, a Gothic novel. Dark forces may have entered his soul, but Adolf remains unshakably human, one of us.
Mailer is now in his eighties. His prose may no longer be as electrically vivid as it was forty years ago, but he has lost none of his immoralist daring. Here are Alois and Klara in bed:
His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound [his penis], drive it into her piety, yes, damn all piety, thought Alois—damned church-mouse wife, damned church!—he was back from the dead—some kind of miracle, he was all there, his pride equal to a sword. This was better than a storm at sea! And then it went beyond such a moment, for she—the most angelic woman in Braunau—knew she was giving herself over to the Devil, yes, she knew he was there, there with Alois and herself, all three loose in the geyser that came out of him, and then out of her, now together, and I was there with them, I was the third presence and was carried into the caterwauling of all three of us going over the falls together, Alois and myself filling the womb of Klara Poelzl Hitler.
One must agree with Mailer: helping us to understand this “most mysterious human being of the century” is indeed a timely undertaking. But exactly how does his novel advance our understanding? By leading us into the mind of an unlovable child who gets physically excited by the sight of bees being incinerated alive and masturbates to the sound of his father’s hemorrhagic coughing, is Mailer asserting that we begin to understand Hitler as we see that the evil acts of the grown man are no different in kind—though vastly different in scale—from the acts of his childhood self, both being the expression of a tangled psychopathology, ugly to the point of devilishness? Is he hereby in effect restating in different terms Dostoevsky’s point that there are no great crimes, that the criminal’s fantasy of grandeur is just another of the heresies of atheism? Is all evil in essence banal, and do we fall into one of the devil’s cunning traps when we treat evil respectfully, take it seriously?
In other words: Just how seriously intended is Mailer’s Hitler book, coming on the heels of The Gospel According to the Son (1997), a biography of the earthly representative of a by no means all-powerful God, a troubled young man who hears voices but is not always sure where they come from? Does the tone of The Castle in the Forest, which is sometimes so light as to verge on the comic, signal that we should take the celestial and infernal goings-on with a grain of salt? Why, despite the devil in him, does there seem no reason to be more afraid of young Adolf than of a sly, vicious dog? And why is the God of Mailer such an ineffectual dummy (among the devils he is scornfully referred to as der Dummkopf)?
The lesson that Adolf Eichmann teaches, wrote Hannah Arendt at the conclusion of Eichmann in Jerusalem, is of “the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil” (Arendt’s italics). Since 1963, when she penned it, the formula “the banality of evil” has acquired a life of its own; today it has the kind of clichéd currency that “great criminal” had in Dostoevsky’s day.
Mailer has repeatedly in the past voiced his suspicion of this formula. As a secular liberal, says Mailer, Arendt is blind to the power of evil in the universe. “To assume…that evil itself is banal strikes me as exhibiting a prodigious poverty of imagination.” “If Hannah Arendt is correct and evil is banal, then that is vastly worse than the opposed possibility that evil is satanic”—worse in the sense that there is no struggle between good and evil and therefore no meaning to existence.
It is not too much to say that Mailer’s quarrel with Arendt is a running subtext to The Castle in the Forest. But does he do justice to her? In 1946 Arendt had an exchange of letters with Karl Jaspers sparked by his use of the word “criminal” to characterize Nazi policies. Arendt disagreed. In comparison with mere criminal guilt, she wrote to him, the guilt of Hitler and his associates “oversteps and shatters any and all legal systems.”
Jaspers defended himself: if one claims that Hitler was more than a criminal, he said, one risks ascribing to him the very “satanic greatness” he aspired to. Arendt took his criticism to heart. When she came to write the Eichmann book, she endeavored to keep alive the paradox that though the actions of Hitler and his associates may defy our understanding, there was no depth of thought behind their conception, no grandeur of intention. Eichmann, a humanly uninteresting man, a bureaucrat through and through, never realized in any philosophically full sense of the word what he was doing; the same might be said, mutatis mutandis, for the rest of the gang.
To take the phrase “the banality of evil” to epitomize Arendt’s verdict on the misdeeds of Nazism, as Mailer seems to do, thus misses the complexity of the thinking behind it: what is peculiar to the everyday banality of a bureaucratically administered, industrially organized policy of wholesale extermination is that it is also “word-and-thought-defying,” beyond our power to understand or to describe.
Before the magnitude of the death, suffering, and destruction for which the historical Adolf Hitler was responsible, the human understanding recoils in bewilderment. In a different way, our understanding may recoil when Mailer tells us that Hitler was responsible for the Third Reich only in a mediate sense—that ultimate responsibility lay with an invisible being known as the Devil or the Maestro. The problem here is the nature of the explanation we are being offered: “The Devil made him do it” appeals not to the understanding, only to a certain kind of faith. If one takes seriously Mailer’s reading of world history as a war between good and evil in which human beings act as proxies for supernatural agents—that is to say, if one takes this reading at face value rather than as an extended and not very original metaphor for unresolved and irresoluble conflict within individual human psyches—then the principle that human beings are responsible for their actions is subverted, and with that the ambition of the novel to search out and speak the truth of our moral life.
Blessedly, The Castle in the Forestdoes not demand to be read at face value. Beneath the surface, Mailer can be seen to be struggling with the same paradox as Arendt. By invoking the supernatural, he may seem to assert that the forces animating Adolf Hitler were more than merely criminal; yet the young Adolf he brings to life on these pages is not satanic, not even demonic, simply a nasty piece of work. Keeping the paradox infernal–banalalive in all its anguishing inscrutability may be the ultimate achievement of this very considerable contribution to historical fiction.
February 15, 2007