THE MISSING YEARS by Walter Laqueur


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Best known for his writings on political history, Laqueur brings to his first fiction--the story of the survival of a half-Jewish family that remained in Berlin throughout the rise and fall of the Nazis--a documentary greyness and an extreme rectitude that are only sometimes effective. The narrator is Dr. Lasson, who was born in small-town Germany, was a soldier in World War I, married non-Jewish Elizabeth, and has set up a practice in Berlin. As Hitler begins taking over, Lasson and his fellow Jews, enlightened and professional for the most part, debate whether they should go or stay. We all know the rest: German lawfulness of character plus Jewish fatalism lead the Berlin Jews to wrong decisions on an almost unthinkable scale. But Lasson somehow stays and lives the next dozen years like a man taking a Sunday constitutional through a mine-field. With a Gentile mother, the two teenaged Lasson sons are considered Mischlinge--half-castes--and, as such, relatively safe; yet they are the ones who take the greatest role in active opposition to the Nazis: joining an underground of Jewish youth; shooting a pair of informers; and trying to escape, the first time unsuccessfully, into Switzerland. Their story embodies genuine adventure and Laqueur's most powerful lesson: that even in the direst human disaster there exists a still center, odd and very dangerous but a genuine shelter for the careful and lucky. The boys' exploits lend the book tension but play badly off Lasson himself, whose testimony of survival is far less compelling. (A doctor, he did not have to wear a star; he had many close calls, but was never caught; he listened to the radio a lot.) And Lasson's connections with the Judenrat--the self-policing Jewish deportation agencies set up by the Nazis--are morally ambiguous in ways that Laqueur never explores sufficiently. A bit fuzzy, then, and never quite gripping enough--since the book, unfortunately, belongs to the doctor rather than his sons--but often provocative, and always a quietly serious and intelligently restrained effort.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1980
Publisher: Little, Brown