Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review of Auslander by Paul Dowswell (2009, Bloomsbury)

Peter Brock’s family belong to the German community living in Poland pre-war. Having retained their farm after Germany invades Poland, his parents are killed in an accident on the eve of the invasion of the Soviet Union. Peter is sent to an orphanage in Warsaw where he is assessed as to his Aryan pedigree. With his strong Nordic features he is selected to be adopted by a leading Berlin-based racial scientist, Professor Kaltenbach. At first, Peter is happy to be in the city and to have a new family, but as he witnesses what is going on at school, in the Hitler Youth, and on the streets, he starts to rebel, forming an alliance with Anna Reiter, whose family have been helping Jews stay hidden and alive. Such an endeavour in Berlin in 1942 is highly risky, not just for them, but their families.

Auslander follows the fortunes of a teenage boy of German heritage but born and raised in Poland during the war. After his parents are killed, Peter Brock is first sent to an orphanage, then adopted by a well-connected family in Berlin. Out of place despite his Aryan ancestry, Peter instinctively reacts against Nazi ideology, seeking to help those that are persecuted despite the risks involved. In charting Peter’s story, Dowswell tells a wider story about racial science and the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and also the resistance of ordinary Germans to the Nazi regime. At times it felt that the story was primarily a vehicle for communicating this information, rather than it being a context for the story itself – and there is an imbalance of show and tell. Moreover, the book very much has the feel of a young adult book in terms of its telling. For my taste’s the story is far too linear and black and white. In particular, the last part of the story felt underdeveloped, with points of tension that lacked depth and intrigue. Overall, an interesting enough read, but a little too linear, straightforward, and too much show.

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