In Snitz’s debut historical novel, a Holocaust survivor prospers in the United States and plays a role in global events.
Abraham Steinnermann has a strong sense of Destiny (the word is always capitalized here), and as a boy growing up in interwar Germany, he envisions himself following in the footsteps of the Teutonic warlord Arminius. He excels as one of the very few Jewish students at Heidelberg University, and his banking skills keep him safe until 1942, when he is arrested and sent to Auschwitz. He survives, falls in love with Merriam, an aid worker, and makes his way to the United States, where he once again succeeds in banking and plays a crucial role in the postwar redevelopment of Europe. Merriam joins him, and they have one son, Jack, who follows in his father’s successful footsteps. Jack, a Marine, is scarred by his service in the Vietnam War, but he returns to civilian life and a career in finance and avoids dealing with his war experiences and resulting alcoholism until his girlfriend, Kathleen, demands it. As Jack is getting his emotions under control, Abe, on the verge of retirement, is persuaded to lead an international development project in Vietnam, where he ends up kidnapped and tortured by a rebel group, an experience that affects him far more profoundly and permanently than his years at Auschwitz. It will be up to Jack to fight for his father’s release.
The sprawling story succeeds in keeping its focus on Abe and his relationships with the people he loves and hates. Although Abe’s ego is ample (“Yes, I am without a doubt a magnificent example of manhood!”), the reader has to admit that his high self-esteem is merited, and he makes for a compelling protagonist. Snitz does a good job of exploring the characters’ psyches, particularly the differences between Abe’s and Jack’s reactions to their wartime experiences, as well as the friendships that can develop among people who respect each other deeply. The novel works best for a reader who is willing to suspend disbelief to a generous degree (the limited physical effects of Abe’s three and a half years in Auschwitz, his role in geopolitics) and accepts the narrative’s abrupt transformation into a military thriller during Abe’s kidnapping in Vietnam. (The book’s final chapters return to his relationships, in keeping with the overall themes.) The prose is sometimes awkward (“An abundance of overconfidence falsely consumed him, a seemingly single Jew who continued to safely dodge the long arm of conflict”), and the characters, particularly Abe, have a tendency to engage in long, melodramatic interior monologues (“I am a master at the game about to be played. I am the Alpha Male. My first salvo across the bow has been fired!”) that can become grating. The reader who is willing to have patience with Abe’s sense of Destiny will find the story a rewarding one.
An expansive novel that explores the lasting effects of war on successive generations.