Omega Minor

Paul Verhaeghen, Author , trans. from the Dutch by the author. Dalkey Archive $16 (691p) ISBN 978-1-56478-477-3

A sprawling take on the dark legacies of WWII and its aftermath, Verhaeghen's debut follows three main characters: Paul Andermans, a Flemish postdoctoral student in Potsdam in 1995; the shadowy Goldfarb, a German nuclear scientist who now teaches at Andermans's university; and Jozef De Heer, who survived the Holocaust to live a “meek” existence in reunited 1995 Germany. The book unfolds as De Heer tells his life story to Andermans when the two meet by chance at a local hospital. The book's central conundrum is how De Heer's life as a survivor and refugee relates to that of Goldfarb, who plays a key role, as the narrative shifts 50-plus years backward, in the Manhattan Project and resulting arms race. But Verhaeghen is also after something much bigger: the nature of complicity in the 20th century's grim history. De Heer's Holocaust material has less gravitas than nonfiction accounts, but Verhaeghen's relentless verbal fireworks (lots of alliteration and rhyme) and comic touches (a children's magician masterminds the Berlin Wall's speedy construction) lighten things. As De Heer's and Goldfarb's lives further intertwine, the novel strains to tie together loose ends, but the big convoluted twists and outlandish ending may be part of the point. This is an ambitious, epic literary debut, and it's not surprising that Verhaeghen, in trying to orchestrate a familiar epoch, falls short of Gravity's Rainbow and Underworld . (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/03/2007
Release date: 11/01/2007
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