cover image SIEGFRIED


Harry Mulisch, , trans. from the Dutch by Paul Vincent. . Viking, $22.95 (180pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03253-2

What if Hitler had a son? Mulisch (The Discovery of Heaven) mixes philosophical reflection and psychological inquiry into an exploration of the single-minded quest of a Dutch writer determined to understand the source of the German dictator's terrible power. Revered author Rudolf Herter is in Vienna to promote his new book; during an interview, he suggests that someone as evil as Adolf Hitler could be "place[d] in a completely fictional, extreme situation" and thereby be better understood. Herter quickly becomes preoccupied by his own proposition, and by Hitler himself. After a reading at the National Library, an elderly Viennese couple, Ullrich and Julia Falk, approach Herter, suggesting that they have insights into Hitler. When he visits these "ancient people in this old-people's home," the Falks reveal the shocking fact that as Hitler's personal servants at his mountain retreat, they were charged with concealing Siegfried, Hitler and Eva Braun's son, born on Kristallnacht. Despite the book's title, Siegfried is a minor character; Mulisch is more concerned with the aging Herter and his drive to ponder the nature of the German dictator as a leader, father and as a "metanatural phenomenon," as "Nothingness." Herter's philosophizing—he makes much use of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer—is a bit on the self-indulgent side and strips the story of suspense; an italicized chapter revealing the inner thoughts of Eva Braun is unconvincing. Nevertheless, this slim novel is a thought-provoking read. (Oct. 27)