SIDE EFFECTS by Peter Amos


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In this bleak probe of the effects of Germany's maniacal WW II nationalism, Amos scores some points about the adult world's lock-step distortion of young lives--but his young people are so unattractively passive that his melancholy thesis is somewhat weakened. The two-family, three-generation tale begins with 17-year-old Herta Sattler, sent to stay in pre-war England with her father's business associate Strang and his family--in the hope that she'll forget her infatuation with Stefan Zobel, an unsuitable suitor. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Michael Strang visits the Sattlers and their circle in Germany--taking a particular dislike to younger son Karl, with an ordinary boyhood fight ""to the death"" that turns ugly when Michael says ""Anyway your country lost the war."" (The adult world then ""looked at itself through them."") The Hitler years move in; at 14 Michael visits again, seeing Hitler's picture on the wall and hearing Karl's older brother Heinz declare his own superiority as part of the ""new Germany""; there's an anti-Semitic tirade at a boys' club picnic. And though Karl is devastated when a part-Jewish friend leaves for Canada, he too will erase his unhappiness by becoming a ""superman."" The war begins: for Heinz it's ""life at last""; Stefan (now married to Herta) is busy and happy; Karl, entering a warm barrack of comrades, feels ""the ecstasy of inclusion."" Over in England, Michael also becomes a soldier--and will also commit atrocities. But after the war, it's business as usual for Heinz and associate Michael; Herta, wife of an unrepentant war criminal, dooms her gentle self; Karl shrives himself with relief work. And a new generation decides that the Holocaust ""had nothing to do with me."" A scrupulous if somewhat simplistic and familiar indictment of collective madness--of the sloganeering conformity that can cramp and divert youthful feelings.

Pub Date: Dec. 16th, 1983
Publisher: St. Martin's