A son, keeping watch over his dying father, is tested by a grim secret.
Heshel Rosenheim, concentration camp survivor, lays dying in a South Florida nursing home. For Michael, his son, a hard vigil gets harder when he finds a box full of notebooks—24 of them—written in his father’s hand. He approaches them warily: “I did not want to know if he had lovers. I did not want to know if he took diuretics . . . or if he hit my mother (especially, God forbid, if she liked it).” Michael is a standup comic whose life has lately not had much of a funny side. He loves his wife, but she’s left him. He loves his son but can’t figure out how to be a father to him. His career is currently bottom of the bill, and now here are these mysterious notebooks. Is this a novel his father’s been writing? If so, can it possibly be autobiographical? Chilling thought, nauseating really, since in the first paragraph, Michael learns that Heinrich Mueller, protagonist, joined the SS in 1939 and two years later was posted to that most infamous of death camps, Majdonek. Michael begins to pursue a truth that he’s reluctant to find. His fading father switches from delusional to deliberately obscure, as if in lucid moments, he, too, regrets the existence of the notebooks. But because they do, Michael is forced to confront them. He learns how closely transgression, repentance and atonement are connected. And that sometimes forgiveness follows, sometimes not.
Melodrama lurks at the edges of this ambitious debut, occasionally crossing the line; still, it’s crisply written and never less than engaging.