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FORGOTTEN FATHERLAND by Ben Macintyre

FORGOTTEN FATHERLAND

The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche

By Ben Macintyre

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-374-15759-6
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 A mad curiosity carries an apparently sane young man to a lost German colony in Paraguay. In the picaresque romp that ensues, Macintyre, former foreign correspondent for Britain's Sunday Correspondent, discovers a forgotten people, exonerates Friedrich Nietzsche, and manages to piece together a rather chilling portrait of the troubled philosopher's far more dreadful sister. Not that Elisabeth Nietzsche was all that obscure to begin with: As editor and executrix of her brother's works, she was responsible for misshaping an entire generation of Nietzsche scholarship through a series of blatant misreadings aimed at serving the Nazi cause. A thoroughgoing racist and anti-Semite, she became convinced early on that the purity of the German nation was under siege, and, with her husband Bernard Fîrster, concocted the idea of an elite German settlement abroad that would eventually replenish and invigorate the downtrodden Aryan blood at home. Paraguay--of all places--was chosen as the most propitious site, and a small band of pioneers set sail in 1886 for what shortly became an unmitigated disaster. The land turned out to be untillable; the climate was deadly; and the finances were mismanaged from the start. Within a few years, Fîrster killed himself, and Elisabeth returned to Germany to care for her brother (who had lapsed into his final madness). Incredibly enough, the colony managed to survive precariously on its own and maintains itself to this day as a surreal Bismarckian outpost in the Paraguayan jungle. Macintyre weaves together several stories here- -Nietzsche's stormy relations with Wagner; Elisabeth's influence on the Nazis; the fate of the colonists left behind--without weakening the central narrative of his own journey to Nueva Germania and its gente perdita, a journey that was both the impetus and agent for this weird and marvelous tale. Lurid and delightful: Rider Haggard couldn't ask for more. (Thirty-two b&w photos.)