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Panger's tendency toward talkiness and preachiness only slightly marred his affecting novel about the terminally ill, Dance of the Wild Mouse (1979). Here, however, those flaws are fatal--in a plodding, numbingly verbose morality-play that attempts to dramatize, yet again, the question of German war-crimes guilt. A US soldier--referred to only as ""the soldier""--shoots five unarmed German POWs, all SS men, in a desperate them-or-me situation. He's officially exonerated, but he suffers psychosomatic symptoms (frostbitten hands that won't heal)--so, urged on by an Army psychiatrist, the soldier vows to ""find out who were the men I killed. . . to learn if they were guilty of crimes."" In postwar Germany, then, he investigates the five dead men--in five static chapters. Klans Erhardt turns out to be a bona fide monster (though ""from another point of view he was just all fucked up""--by his neurotic parents). Heinrich Rathenau is revealed as a fanatical, professorial Aryan racist but a non-violent one. (""Like all of us,"" says the wife of a part-Jew helped by Rathenau, ""he was neither all good nor all bad."") Kurt Golze, it seems, was a frightened, passive family man no better or worse than ""the soldier"" himself. (The soldier has a spot of graphic sex with Golze's widow Anna, now wed to a fat, impotent hypocrite.) Erich Kleist was cold and efficient, but his by-the-book approach saved many Jews. (The soldier's investigation here leads him to a US undercover agent looking for Martin Bormann.) And finally there's Julius Schwarzmann, who turns out to have been a music-loving commandant at Treblinka, a madman whose inconsistent behavior is recollected by a Treblinka survivor. The soldier's conclusion? He can't reach one, of course, but merely returns to find love with Anna. . . who asks, ""Can your search ever end?"" (""The soldier stared upward through the darkness, then slowly shook his head."") A familiar sermon--wearyingly belabored.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1982
Publisher: Dembner--dist. by Norton