Hitler's Youth: 'Castle in the Forest'
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The "Castle in the Forest" tells the story of the childhood of Adolf Hitler through the words of a demon. It's Norman Mailer's first novel in 10 years, and it's due out next week.
Alan Cheuse has a review.
ALAN CHEUSE: You may call me D.T., the novel opens. This is short for Diether, a German name, and D.T. will do. With it's curious echoes of the opening of "Moby Dick," this passage by a minor devil, assigned ostensibly by Satan himself to mold the life of young Adolf Hitler, sets the tone for the rest of the novel. And D.T.'s awful revelations about the blood bramble lives of Hitler's grandparents, and the incestuous whirlpool of his parents.
Mailer painstakingly reconstructs these lives from his massive research, casting Hitler's story as a subtle contest between God and the Devil. And as far as Mailer is concerned, it's the greatest story ever told in the 20th century. Sometimes, the narrative soils down too much, as D.T. the narrator goes on a bit too long about Hitler's brutal father's hobby of beekeeping. But this demon of a narrator is constantly making wonderfully suggestive asides about sin and reincarnation, about marriage and dreams, about art and excrement.
And he's always there when we need them, as in the monstrous moment of the conception of the Fuhrer himself, a bedroom scene that may rival in its perverse intensity the comic energy of the conception of the author in Lawrence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy." Because of his assignment from his maestro - as he calls his awful boss - D.T. is consistently present at those subtle and not so subtle moments when young Hitler, the devil's wind at his back, moves forward to make his horrific destiny.
Thanks to Mailer, we are present, too.
NORRIS: The book is the "Castle in the Forest" by Norman Mailer. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
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