HASEN by Reuben Bercovitch


Email this review


In the forest near a concentration camp, two adolescents live precariously, emblematically--hunting for food, sleeping on boards underground--in a grim, allusive struggle for survival. Their symbolic DMZ stands in contrast to the camp nearby, with its casual brutality, venal pecking order, and harsh sexual servicings. High-born Ritter lives unconfined with the self-interested approval of Commandant Hoegel, who savors the hares (Hasen) that the boy traps for dinner; Perchik, a Jew who escaped from an arriving train, is a silent partner. They routinely collect their kill and speak coolly of incoming passengers, especially the amply endowed women, until one train discharges people from Perchik's village, including his younger brother David. Bercovitch's episodic scenes and weighted exchanges insinuate suggestively as the ensuing mobilization follows a tense law-of-the-jungle trail. The boys' attempts to rescue Dudie, involving mercenary negotiations and agonizing recognitions, are interrupted by a changing of the guard--Hoegel is murdered--and ultimately foiled; in a violent parallel, Ritter gets an afternoon with the new Commandant's girl and Perchik finds his brother's body still warm in a token grave. His vengeful killing of an officer then implicates Ritter--the only boy known to live in the forest--and both stumble into a flight that is, inevitably, a losing battle: the jaws of a tracking Alsatian close in like the springs of a trap. Bercovitch uses the acquiescent camp personnel and noisy forest creatures to advantage, allows adolescent preoccupations a life of their own, and resists the impulse to invest each moment with too much freight.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Knopf