Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Book Review: ALL MY LOVE, DETRICK

Title: All my love, Detrick
Author: Roberta Kagan
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 355









All My Love, Detrick by Roberta Kagan is a Holocaust novel of fiction that brings us face to face with the brutal reality of the darkest period in history, and the harrowing and horrific treatment meted out to Jews by one cruel and insanely ambitious man.


Detrick Haswell, a 7-year-old German Christian boy, forges an unlikely friendship with Jacob Abdenstern, the Jewish owner of a bicycle repair shop. The grown man is kind and compassionate and he becomes a solid father figure in the young lad’s life.

When Detrick grows older, in a Germany that has begun flirting with the Nazis, he shuns their doctrines, and clings to his friendship with Jacob, despite the risk it entails. When he falls in love with Jacob’s daughter, Leah, he becomes even more willing to undertake desperate measures to save them.

Meanwhile, Detrick’s best friend, Konrad Klausen, a puny youth who always depended on Detrick’s friendship and protection, joins the SS. Heady with the power that the SS’ black uniform gives him, he proceeds to give vent to his latent urge for domination.

Despite hating the Nazis and all they stand for, Detrick joins the SS, hoping the black uniform will offer him the cover he needs to protect the Abdensterns. But the attempt fails and Leah and her father are whisked off to a concentration camp.

While the love story of Detrick and Leah is the centre point of the novel, we also receive insights into the histories of some of the other Jews.

Jacob’s son, Karl, becomes angry at the growing anti-Semitism and longs for Palestine, a nation in which Jews can live without fear. When he is sent to the concentration camp at Treblinka, he befriends a group of people with similar yearnings and joins in their struggle, ultimately dying in the camp. His story forms a significant subplot of the novel.

In another subplot, the Silver family, their daughter Dorothy is Leah’s best friend, move to America to escape the persecution. I found this plot insignificant in the larger context of the story, beyond showing the plight of those Jews that relocated to distant lands to escape the persecution.

Dorothy’s story reminded me of Theodore Dreiser’s flawed heroines, girls from upright families, raised well, who lose their way on account of circumstances.

We also come to know of the Lebensborn Institute, a place that welcomes unmarried Aryan mothers-to-be, so long as they have had trysts with pureblood Aryans, through the story of Helga, Detrick’s sister. A torrid affair, followed by a single night of passion, with an SS officer, Eric, leads to a pregnancy. But Eric is married, and so Helga finds herself directed to the Lebensborn, where she gives birth to a child, named Katja. This subplot is taken forward in Book II of the series, You Are My Sunshine.

Kagan also leads us down another meaningless subplot about Eric and his married life. I call it meaningless because it does not prove its relevance either in this book or the next. Perhaps it will justify itself in Book III.

Beginning in Berlin in 1923 in the Prologue, the novel takes off ten years later in the city as it was in 1933, when widespread dissatisfaction had caused people to blame the Jews for the misery that Germany suffered following its defeat in World War I. It was also the time when Adolf Hitler is preparing to rouse Germany with rhetoric about Aryan supremacy and the Jewish “menace”.

The story beats time to the timelines of history, reflecting the tremendous amount of research that Kagan has put into this work. Interspersed with the life stories of the principal characters are italicized tidbits about Hitler’s appointment as the chancellor of Germany and later as the Fuehrer; the passing of the Nuremberg Race Laws, forbidding interaction of any kind with Jews; Kristalnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, when Nazis burned down a synagogue and attacked Jewish people and destroyed property in a mad rampage.

There are a lot of descriptions of the sexual act in the book, between Detrick and Leah, between Helga and Eric, and between Dorothy and Tony, her married lover. But they are all tastefully done, and do not cause you to cringe.  

Kagan’s writing is good, but there are a large number of proofreading errors and quite a few spelling mistakes that mar the effect that the book has on you.

Despite the author’s efforts, I didn’t find myself rooting for any of the characters. Neither Detrick nor Leah held my attention. One reason for that might have been the stories of the minor characters that competed for my attention.

I also found the sheer number of chapters, at 159, annoying and too painful to endure. I wish Kagan had seen fit to combine some of the chapters together. Many of the chapters are less than a page, too small to be called a chapter.

There are 27 chapters that are about 300 words long. Another 11 chapters include only about 120 words. Three others hold about 250 words, while six chapters include 100 words and yet another consists of 150 words.

Two chapters have about 60 words while three consist of less than 100.

Chapter 44 is exactly 30 words long and Chapter 155 has 37 words.

Also, the fact that Kagan has taken on such a large canvas and sought to do justice to so many characters, including minor ones, gives this work a slightly disjointed feel. You feel for each character while you are in the moment with them, but you don’t recall them for too long after that.

All in all, I found the book interesting, but only just so.


(Watch out for my review of Book II, You are my Sunshine tomorrow.)





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