cover image Jews Queers Germans

Jews Queers Germans

Martin Duberman. Seven Stories, $19.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-60980-738-2

Historian Duberman is known for his biographies and accounts of the gay rights movement; he’s written plays, as well, and now adds to his résumé this “novel/history” about the gay and Jewish men who were in and near German power circles from the first years of the 20th century up to the Nazi era. It’s a rich topic, encompassing outsiders who were also—sometimes—insiders: the circle of gay men around Kaiser Wilhelm; friends Harry Kessler and Walther Rathenau, one a gay aesthete and so-called “Red Count,” the other a Jewish industrialist who became a minister in the Weimar-era government; and Magnus Hirschfeld, the Jewish, openly gay pioneer of sexology. According to Duberman, his semi-fictionalized approach, which allows for subjectivity and “informed speculation,” is needed because history-writing is stuck in the 19th century. Perhaps he’s right, but this book does not succeed in making his case. Both historical novels and history require scenes, narrative, and characters who feel alive. Duberman describes genuinely compelling figures but then leaves them to bob on waves of German history while having awkwardly expository conversations. There are juicy stories, such as the one about the openly gay Nazi storm trooper, and tragic stories, as when Rathenau, who thinks that assimilated Jews have a real future in Germany, is killed by anti-Semites. But there is never a clear story line or a sense that these characters were living, breathing people. (Mar.)