Hot Nazi beach reads

The new wave of Reich books: pop genres, good Germans
By PETER KEOUGH  |  August 18, 2009

ROUGH AND READY In his reissued 1947 novel, Hans Fallada sets humble "good Germans" against the regime.

Review: Inglourious Basterds. By Peter Keough.

Interview: Quentin Tarantino. By Kam Williams.

Say what you will about the Third Reich, it's helped keep the entertainment industry in business for more than 70 years. Punch "Nazi" into the Internet Movie Database and you'll get 1164 entries, from Bertolt Brecht's Kuhle Wampe (1932) to the remake of They Saved Hitler'sBrain that's scheduled for 2011. Recently, the interest has intensified: Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds opens this week, and following in short order will be both A Woman in Berlin, based on an anonymous diary of a German woman victimized by the Red Army, and the Norwegian Dead Snow, a horror film with Nazi zombies. Still in the works: the Finnish entry Iron Sky, about Nazis on the moon, and The 4th Reich, a British splatter film starring Dr. Mengele.

Nazis aren't blitzing just the movie screens this year, though — they're also invading the bookstores, with battalions of novels and non-fiction tomes published or upcoming. Like many of the recent movies, the written word is taking up the trend started last year with Valkyrie and The Reader and focusing not on the Reich's evil and the suffering it caused but rather on the "Good German." And like Inglourious Basterds, some of these new books could be accused of trivializing Nazi enormities by making them an element in a pop-genre entertainment.

Both tendencies are evident in Charles McCain's well-researched and fitfully gripping AN HONORABLE GERMAN: A NOVEL OF WORLD WAR II (Hachette; 384 pages; $24.99), a war story that features the exploits of the title naval officer, Max Brekendorf. Max isn't the luckiest guy in the German navy, serving first on the doomed pocket battleship Graf Spee and then on an equally ill-fated raider. He's not the most perceptive, either; it isn't till he gets accidentally arrested while on leave in Berlin in 1941 that he notices the regime might not be on the up-and-up. "I've been away two years fighting for my country," he explains. "How was I to know that I was in more danger from the Gestapo than the Royal Navy?" Now that he knows, however, it still takes him about another 150 pages to do anything about it.

More on top of things is Hannah Vogel, the heroine of Rebecca Cantrell's diverting murder mystery A TRACE OF SMOKE (Forge; 312 pages; $24.95). She's a journalist, after all, a crime reporter for the Tageblatt. But times were even tougher for honest newspaper people in 1931 Berlin than they are today, what with the grinding unemployment and the Brownshirts beating people in the streets. Hardened though she is, Hannah is shocked to find her gay younger brother Ernst's photo among the day's morgue shots at the police station. Her private investigation into the crime turns up a tiresome orphan and leads to another Ernst — Ernst Röhm, the brutal head of the SA, Hitler's paramilitary goons. Fortunately, along the way Hannah also meets her own honorable German, Boris, a rich guy with a nice car who disdains the Nazis.

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Related: Review: Valkyrie, Hidden letters from the Holocaust, Life after Pi, More more >
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