YOUNG ADOLF by Beryl Bainbridge
Kirkus Star


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He walks funny."" That's only one of the pathetic things about 23-year-old Adolf Hitler, who has fled from conscription in the Austrian army of 1912 to grimy Liverpool, England, where his piggy half-brother Alois is a waiter and part-time razor-blade salesman. (The basic facts are history.) Reluctantly taken in by Alois and put-upon wife Bridget, Adolf is the lowest form of houseguest: ill-clad, foul-smelling, barely functional, occasionally hysterical, spending most of his time sleeping on the sofa. (""At least you know where he is,"" says hairy-armed Mary O'Leary, who lives downstairs.) Desperate for affection--he broods over his mother's death--Adolf latches on to landlord Meyer, a Jewish intellectual and hack violinist who reacts with sarcasm or sympathy to Adolf's paranoid fantasizings and rantings about Aryan purebloodedness. And, when Adolf is enlisted to help a misguided spurt of local civil disobedience, he learns--before being shipped back to Germany--that crowds of frightened people ""will walk like lambs to the slaughter."" Bainbridge achieves a certain creepy and oblique impact by treating this monster-in-the-making no differently than she does the ordinary goofy losers in her other novels. And her imaginative narrative is, as always, cutting and comic and starkly colored. But the premise never really reaches beyond gimmickry, the tip-off being that Bainbridge can't resist the vast potential for cheap irony: to replace Adolf's smelly shirt, his sister-in-law makes him one from a scrap of brown linen; when Adolf gets a cut on his forehead, he combs his hair down over it to hide the scar; forced to dress as a woman as part of the local insurrection, Adolf resolves to grow a mustache to reaffirm his masculinity; and when Adolf works as a hotel busboy, he spills a jug of cream over an imperious Jew and thinks, ""that's just for starters."" A witty, surefire parlor trick played with the banality and lifesized pathology of evil--but Bainbridge has written the same sort of story before, and better, without history looking over her shoulder and making her work seem even more small-scale than it is.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1979
Publisher: Braziller