If Dave Chapelle were a 10-year-old in Austria during World War II….
We’ve gotten used to laughing at the brutal absurdities of modern racism, but Third Reich comedy is still rare. British author and philosopher New (Gage Street Courtesan, 2013) proves it can be done. Here, the relentless eye for hypocrisy belongs to the youngest of four children born to an Aryan pastor and his Jewish wife. The Brinkmann family has been booted by the brownshirts out of the fatherland and into Austria shortly before that country, too, is taken over by Hitler. Through the eyes of a wise child growing up in the ever darkening shadow of the Final Solution, the most notable thing about the Nazi system is its utter ludicrousness. The kids can go into stores their mother can’t; one day the family is deemed unfit to own a Saint Bernard, pet bunnies, or a wireless radio; finally the children are yanked out of school, only to be ordered the next year to return. Perhaps this anti-Semitism won’t last, suggests one character, reasoning that the Führer is too intelligent not to see what a mistake it is. “Has she read Mein Kampf?” wonders our narrator. “Has anyone? Can anyone?” Of a buxom blonde biology teacher who measures her pupils’ skulls with calipers, he comments, “Race is to Frau Professor Forster what sex is to a nymphomaniac—she just can’t get enough of it.” Of a trip to Berlin: “The train leaves on time (what else are Führers for?). But the optimism, euphemisms, and know-nothingism around him finally wear thin as the war escalates and more and more people disappear. One person who doesn’t have the wool pulled over her eyes is the narrator's mother, Gabi, whose youthful conversion to Christianity hasn’t erased her Jewish-mother qualities, including a stubborn, single-minded focus on her children’s education. Nor will it protect her from Hitler’s plans for her race. Fortunately, the story does not end there.
The Tin Drum meets Life Is Beautiful in this tragicomic, one-of-a-kind novel.