Total Pageviews

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Writer's Life 4/3 - Pursuit

Have you ever wondered what you would have done had you lived as a mature adult in the Germany of the 1930's? I've tried to imagine it, but it's impossible to know for certain how I would have behaved. I want to believe my natural distrust of politicians would have won out. Of course, we all would like to believe we would have, if not resisted, at least remained on the sidelines. I have no idea how possible that was for females and the elderly. It certainly wasn't for males old enough to serve. These thoughts were rekindled by an interesting novel I just finished. Pursuit by Robert L. Fish was published in 1978. It is the story of a German SS officer responsible for the deaths of thousands at the Maidanek concentration camp. He sees the war as lost and concocts an escape, undergoing plastic surgery and passing himself off as a Jew, hoping to get to Switzerland where the riches he has stolen are banked. His plan completely unravels. He undergoes an odyssey that leads him to suffer a year in the hell of Bergen-Belsen that almost kills him, followed by a rigorous trek through several European countries, and finally to Israel, where he eventually becomes a hero, rising to the rank of general, saving countless lives but not nearly as many as he killed. Eventually he marries. He loves his Jewish wife and son, but still hates Jews and the country, despite the fact that several saved him on his journey. He does not seek or believe he needs redemption, which is refreshing in a literary character. He fights for three reasons: survival, his love of combat, and his family. I will say nothing further about the plot other than that it takes the easy way out in the end. At one point a character, a young woman who works in a Holocaust archive in Munich, says she believes men are monsters. This is the most interesting aspect of the book. She is generalizing, saying, in effect, the Nazis were no different than most, which seems like heresy coming from one of God's chosen. I wondered how Jews reacted to the novel when it was first issued. Alas, I was unable to find any info on that. While I agree that most men are capable of spur of the moment monstrousness, I believe the calculated, premeditated murder of millions is an entirely different type of evil. Is the protagonist a psychopath? I would say borderline. He is as arrogant as the Nazi officers featured in countless films. He is highly intelligent, a mechanical engineer, but his foremost trait is adaptability, which is Darwinian in a survival-of-the-fittest way, although he would not have made it without help. The prose and dialogue are solid, if a tad overwritten. I don't know if the author traveled to all the countries in which the tale is set, but the atmosphere seems authentic, at least to this reader who has done very little traveling. In fact, that aspect was too detailed for my taste. Fish passed away in 1981 at 83. A Kindle version of the book was released in 2015 and is selling modestly. 15 users at Amazon have rated Pursuit, forging to a consensus of 4.2 of five. One woman rated it only two stars, saying she found it so disturbing she put it down early. Unfortunately, she didn't elaborate. I sense Fish was caught in between writing a standard thriller and a work of profound substance. It is largely the former. Although I read eagerly, I was disappointed in the end. I rate it three. Fish wrote more than thirty novels and many short stories. The Fugitive received an Edgar for debut mystery novel. Moonlight Gardener, a short story, also was earned him that prestigious award. His Mute Witness was adapted to the screen as Bullitt (1968), the popular film starring Steve McQueen. No one knows for sure how many were killed at Maidanek, spelled Majdanek at the The estimates run from 42,000 to 1,380,000. I found the names of five officers who served at the camp. Colonel Helmut von Shraeder, the main character of Pursuit, was not among them. Perhaps he is entirely fictional. Another aspect the novel brought out keenly is the miracle that is Israel, a desert transformed into an oasis, the only democracy in the Middle East, at first defended with nothing but small arms and with virtually no help from any other countries.

Say it aint so: Hondo, has given up his droll NY Post baseball handicapping column. His replacement, Stitches, has big shoes to fill. Good luck, sir.

My thanks to Johnny, who bought three thrillers, to the woman who purchased The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness by Martha Stout, and to the gentleman who called his wife on his cell phone to make sure she hadn't read Danielle Steel's Blue, which he bought.
Vic's Sixth novel: 
Vic's Short Works:

No comments:

Post a Comment