After a strong, moodily suspenseful beginning, this new novel by British writer Litvinoff (The Lost Europeans, the Faces of...



After a strong, moodily suspenseful beginning, this new novel by British writer Litvinoff (The Lost Europeans, the Faces of Terror trilogy) becomes a talky, strained treatment of several overlapping Holocaust themes: the un-healable wounds of both victims and persecutors; the search for revenge and expiation; the ironic ""Nazism"" of today's Israel. Holocaust-survivor Avram Benamir, 67, is shot to death on a Tel Aviv street; the quickly-seized assassin is identified as Frank Sinclair, 50, a British citizen who was (as ""Franz Slonimsky"") a teenage survivor of Dachau. And Sinclair, a withdrawn wraith, soon announces in prison: ""He was a Nazi officer. That's why I killed him."" Could this possibly be true? Cound the dead Benamir really be a German concentration-camp guard who later pretended to be Jewish, married a Jewish woman, settled in Israel, and lived the life of a Holocaust survivor for 35 years? So wonders Tel Aviv policeman Amos Shomron--even after he's taken off the case by higher-ups who are afraid of an embarrassing trial. Sent to England for an unrelated conference, Shomron talks to Sinclair's few friends and finds the recluse's journals--which are printed in full: Sinclair's childhood ordeals in Dachau; his special hatred for an SS man named Kampfmann (who supposedly died in 1945); his fury at the postwar acquittal of some Nazi criminals. (""There and then the assassin was born in my soul."") It seems, then, that Benamir was indeed really Kampfmann--but the murder motive, says imprisoned Sinclair, wasn't just revenge: he wants to draw public attention to the ""virus of Nazism"" in Israel's war-like, repressive drift. (How could the Nazi impostor pass unrecognized ""unless he could merge with people who were not unlike himself?"") So finally, while the authorities become determined to hush up the Sinclair case, Shomron goes to Berlin--finding more evidence of the Kampfmann/Benamir switch, but also finding evidence that Kampfmann may have been a decent (if weak) Christian soul whose later-life-as-a-Jew was ""a remarkable act of penitence."" Referring to Hannah Arendt, George Steiner, and others, Litvinoff touches on familiar, potent Holocaust questions--but without depth or focus--while the theme of Israel's moral decline (tenuously linked to the Holocaust) is far more vividly treated in such recent non-fiction as Amos Oz's In the Land of Israel, p. 1089. And Shomron's investigation loses steam about halfway through--as both political soul-journey and mystery-puzzle. In sum: initially intriguing, ultimately static and murky--but the well-textured Israeli settings and heavy publisher promotion (a $100,000 ad campaign is promised) may attract a fair-sized audience.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Stein & Day

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983

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