A deliberately provocative fantasy of good intentions turned apocalyptic.
Dutch author Grunberg’s sensation-seeking new novel (Phantom Pain, 2004, etc.) may seem audacious to some, offensive to others. It tramples upon religious sentiments and makes use of anti-Semitic stereotypes in its examination of Swiss Xavier Radek’s ambition to serve a movement with enthusiasm, as did his German grandfather, a member of the SS. Radek chooses to bring comfort to the Jews—the same race his grandfather referred to as “enemies of happiness”—and so the boy attends synagogue, swims in the Rhine with young Zionists and makes friends with a rabbi’s son, Awromele, from whom he requests help to become circumcised. But the circumcision goes badly, leading to the amputation of one of Xavier’s testicles, which he keeps in a jar and calls “King David.” Plenty more savage and sexual material threads the story. Awromele and Xavier fall in love, and Awromele is badly beaten by a band of Kierkegaard-quoting boys as a result. Xavier is also the love object of Marc, his mother’s boyfriend; she, meanwhile, is viciously self-harming with a bread knife she calls her lover and eventually commits murder. Awromele and Xavier, who are working on translating Mein Kampf into Yiddish, relocate to Amsterdam to allow Xavier to train as an artist. Later they move to Israel where Xavier becomes a politician and is elected prime minister. “King David” is viewed by increasing numbers of Jews as the Redeemer returned in a unique guise, and Xavier sells nuclear warheads to small nations, thereby fulfilling his goal of bringing comfort to the Jews—in the form of world destruction. The Hitlerian parallels culminate with Xavier alone in a bunker, with his dogs and dead lover.
A highly questionable, sprawling, dispassionate, mordantly modern black comedy: more shock than awe.