In Irving’s debut novel, a family is singled out for persecution by a mysterious Nazi in 1933 Bremen.
The author presents the plight of a German family of partly Jewish ancestry in the months leading up to the Nazi takeover in 1933. The Freyberg family—Albert, his wife, Mina, and their children—have a comfortable life in Bremen. Mina is the majority shareholder of a bank, Albert runs it, and everything seems perfect. Because they are only part Jewish (and nonpracticing at that), Mina believes that they have nothing to fear from Nazism, but Albert knows better. However, before World War II begins, the Freybergs have their share of other dramas, including infidelities, abandoned offspring and (possibly) accidental deaths. Meanwhile, a Nazi official with an apparent personal agenda orders police detective Joseph Strauss to dig up dirt on the Freybergs. The repercussions of Albert’s and Mina’s past deeds and secrets fall heavily upon them, but even more so upon their children and younger associates, including Albert’s secretary, Lucy Wagner, his assistant, Martin Bock, and mysterious streetwalker Greta Greyer. The novel’s general subject matter is familiar territory, but Irving does intriguingly make clear how the horrors of the second world war were seeded by the end of the first. However, there are too many plotlines and points of view for the story to develop very much emotional punch. It isn’t until a third into the novel that it even becomes clear that Albert and Mina are the story’s focus; readers don’t get Mina’s point of view until the sixth chapter, and Albert is always depicted from the outside, described by others. It also seems that the most sexually active women receive the harshest fates, regardless of their motives, while murder is often treated as a mere peccadillo.
An awkwardly executed tale set in the Nazi era.