In this thriller, a volatile teenager living in a nationalistic German community finds evidence that he’s part of a secret experiment that aims to re-create Adolf Hitler.
High schooler and first-person narrator Addie dwells in Upper Reichfield, Pennsylvania—a strange, closed-off community that no one ever seems to leave. Teutonic sitcoms, such as “Leave It to Hauser,” air on television, and classes teach propagandistic lessons about German/Nordic cultural supremacy. Addie works a bleak customs-office job, but he’s passionate about his paintings—and about leading his soccer team to victory against the so-called “lowlies” of a rival school from a poorer neighborhood. He’s courted by a blonde beauty named Ava, but he finds himself attracted to a biracial Lower Reichfield player named Shaylee. Her associates are involved in an art-forgery scheme, so they take advantage of Addie’s talents. Later, he and Shaylee discover a document from the late 1990s, stuffed in a drain, that indicates that Addie is actually a clone of an infamous tyrant named Hitler, who’s absent from Addie’s school history lessons. It also appears that everything around Addie is an elaborate setup to psychologically mold him into that villain of old. Will the petulant protagonist’s innate sense of rebellion make him a good guy despite his DNA? Readers who’ve ever wondered how a sequel to Ira Levin’s 1976 bestseller, The Boys from Brazil, might go will be the ideal readership for Ludwig’s (Planet of the Orb Trees, 2017) latest novel. It seems to be aimed at the YA market despite some R-rated elements, including raw language, a scene involving oral sex, and a violent Götterdämmerung climax. The tone hits a range of notes between Suzanne Collins’ 2010 book, Mockingjay, and Mel Brooks’ 1967 film, The Producers. Still, it’s striking and disconcerting when Ludwig makes a young, malfunctioning pseudo-neo-fascist speak in a voice not unlike Holden Caulfield’s. Even before the book tips its hand as sc-fi, it feels akin to past fabulist/surreal fiction, such as Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum (1959), which tried to interpret Nazism in avant-garde terms.
An oddball curio, but the teen angst enhances its far-fetched premise.