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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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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