A dramatically and philosophically enthralling tale.

I WAS HITLER'S BAKER

In Peterson’s (The Girl From Copenhagen, 2018) historical novel, a childhood acquaintance of Adolf Hitler later becomes a baker with a lucrative but ultimately dangerous business strategy. 

When Josef Putkamer first meets Hitler as a child in 1900, they’re classmates in Leonding, Austria, and the latter already bears the marks of a future tyrant. He intimidates Putkamer into parting with his lunch money daily, and, eventually, Putkamer placates him with pastries purloined from his baker father’s shop. Hitler is “incredibly selfish” and “generally fearless,” Putkamer notes in the first-person narration, as well as a cruel prankster who’s incapable of empathy. He’s also a staunch admirer of former German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and already believes that he has a great destiny. The two boys eventually part ways, and Putkamer, years later, takes over his father’s bakery and opens another in Munich. There, he’s reunited with Hitler, who’s become an angry political agitator, trying to make a name for himself. Putkamer, at the request of his new pastry chef and wife, Freya Krause, caters to the growing Nazi market as a business strategy—the customers “were suckers for anything with a swastika on it,” he notes. By 1935, his business is so successful that he opens a third store in Berlin, becoming the distinguished owner of multiple “Nazi-themed bakeries.” Peterson imaginatively conjures the evolution of Hitler’s maniacal psyche, showing the lust for power that’s evident from his earliest years. But the protagonist, Putkamer, is the book’s most intriguing aspect—a man who proclaims himself apolitical yet pins his business’s hopes on the ascendancy of a murderous political party. The character also marries an unrepentant admirer of all things Nazi; after one lovemaking session, she’s thrilled that they “made love on the same bed upon which Ernst Röhm and his young men pleasured themselves.” The narrator’s indifference to the tumultuous politics of the times—artfully depicted by Peterson— rises to the level of dark absurdity. The author successfully explores what German American philosopher Hannah Arendt famously called the “banality of evil”—effectively showing how bureaucrats and businessmen can contribute, without ideological fervor, to political oppression. 

A dramatically and philosophically enthralling tale.

Pub Date: June 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-949735-97-0

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Ideopage Press Solutions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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