cover image The Dry Danube: A Hitler Forgery

The Dry Danube: A Hitler Forgery

Paul West. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $24.95 (152pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1432-2

What happens to a dream deferred?"" asked poet Langston Hughes. West (Lord Byron's Doctor) grounds his new novel in one of the most famous deferred dreams of the 20th century: Hitler's childhood desire to be an artist. Masquerading as a chilling and intellectually penetrating memoir of the F hrer during the seven years he lived in Vienna, 1907-1914, the novel is written in a visceral stream of consciousness. The dense, darkly menacing text posits that failed art student Hitler was obsessed with the Viennese artists Kolberhoff and Treischnitt (""These men do not so much control Art, they are Art""). The two artists first inspire Hitler, then resist his courtship of them as mentors, and finally serve as reminders of his inadequacy, reminders that haunt his political career. The headlong narrative spotlights glimpses into the fictional Hitler's feverish mind from 1907 to 1945, hinting at his compulsive attachment to the art world that rejects him; the details and minutiae of art (""was not pointillisme in the air?""), anglophilia, power (""the Attilas, they are the ones who perhaps are closest to winning cosmic favor"") and a move toward the irrational (""he murmurs the Latin word interfecit, meaning `he killed,' while imagining himself a paropemassis, a mountain around which eagles dare not fly""). All of this the reader sees only through a glass darkly, as West reveals in a perspective-shifting afterword that gives the work a resonating impact. But no matter how heavily West's tale is draped in myth, he convincingly draws Hitler as a man desperately concerned with societal acceptance and careening toward monomaniacal frenzy. It is a slow-building shock to realize how the suffering of millions emanated from a bitter little man whose Danube failed to be beautiful. (Apr.)