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Ambitious but lifeless first novel of a fictional town in Germany, between 1939-43, where even ""ordinary"" Aryan citizens are inevitably affected by the Nazi regime. Hershman's portrait and--in effect--indictment of Kreiswald, a town small enough so that most people know one another, is made up of individual stories, with a cast of common characters who increasingly behave as if ""slavery and murder were to be tolerated."" As Thea, a member of the local resistance, observes: ""There was something called the national good. It entered our lives assiduously, like a whiff of perfume, seducing innocent and intelligent alike; by the end, caught lying with it under our soiled flag, we all stank."" A sensitive clerk, Thorgood Stella, must record the executions at the police station. Unable to share his horror, he turns away from his young wife Gerda, whose flirtation with police Commander Terskan turns into an affair. Recovering from a stroke in the local hospital, the wife of one of the policemen discovers a hidden ward from which children disappear. An ambitious map-maker hopes to profit from the closing of Jewish businesses. He also embarks on an affair with his landlady, whose husband suddenly returns after working as a builder at Auschwitz. Beloved playmates turn out to be Jewish and are taken away; an amateur musician finds himself caught up in the Nazi enthusiasm as he leads a parade; and a young woman who hates the war is in love with a soldier, who promises her that he ""won't shoot."" As British bombs destroy the town, police and resistance members race to get hold of the files from the now-bombed police station--documents that will reveal just what it was the citizens of Kreiswald did during the war. Commendable concept, with credible if somewhat too carefully chosen characters, but vitiated by self-conscious writing and intrusively unsubtle intentions. Disappointing.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 1991
Page count: 233pp
Publisher: HarperCollins