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Based on the author's own real-life WW II experience, this fiction/fact concoction is a gritty, strange blend of raunchiness, heroism, and relentless, graphic Nazi atrocities. In Mauthauser concentration camp in 1943, Paulo Chastagnier--young ex-pimp and black marketeer--is one of several inmates whose healthy muscles save them from extermination: these men are put into special training, then shipped with 300 ""Kommando X"" troops to Yugoslavia, where they are put to digging a tunnel to Austria through the mountains. This is Loibl Pass in the Karawanken Mountains, and the tunnel is for Panzers' all-weather easy access to Trieste and the Adriatic. But the Nazi taskmasters are insane, hardly feeding the starving tunnel-builders, beating them constantly: Paulo is put on pickax, his little friend Angel Belloni on wheelbarrow. And though there's the added horror of homosexual seduction attempts by the hideous overseers, Paulo determines to survive--to make the work last till the war is over, to become an indispensable laborer, to avoid the death-oven fate of those who falter. He does indeed survive, becoming the most beaten and scarred man in the camp, even coming through six freezing months of half-food and double beatings--after which things get easier because of Paulo's promises of postwar good-times in Paris for the homosexual overseers. Finally, then, DÉdÉ, a Breton intellectual, alerts Paulo to a new underground resistance gang in the camp, and Paulo leads the way to freedom with a false-bottomed train-wagon. . . . Fact or fiction? Lacaze's story would certainly have more power if he had committed himself, in a non-fiction format, to telling nothing but the truth. And the adventure-novel clichÉs that pop up throughout the translation add to the sense of dramatic liberties being taken. Still, even read as a highly embroidered memoir, this long, stark nightmare-story (published in France in 1978) is often effectively horrifying, consistently sharp and grim.

Pub Date: Feb. 13th, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday