Combining Woody Allen and Mel Brooks with Anne Frank and Haulden Caulfield gives one an idea of the approach British author and philosopher Christopher New takes in this tragicomic novel. To be sure, there have been many a novel that pokes fun at the brutal absurdities of modern racism, but Third Reich comedy is still rare. In film one has, for example, To Be or Not To Be (1983) with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. New shows it can be done in literature as well: “…World War Two had come and Poland has gone…”
In The Kaminsky Cure, the relentless eye for hypocrisy belongs to the youngest of four children born to an Aryan pastor and his Jewish wife. The Brinkmann family has been booted by Hitler’s Brownshirts out of the fatherland and into Austria shortly before that country is also taken over by Hitler. Through the eyes of a wise child growing up in the ever-darkening shadow of the Final Solution, the most notable thing about the Nazi system is its utter ludicrousness – the kids can go into stores their mother cannot, one day the family is deemed unfit to own a Saint Bernard, pet bunnies, or a wireless radio, and finally the children are yanked out of school, only to be ordered the next year to return.
Perhaps this anti-Semitism will not last, suggests one character, reasoning that the Führer is too intelligent not to see what a mistake it is. “Has she read Mein Kampf?” wonders our narrator. “Has anyone? Can anyone?” Of a buxom blonde biology teacher who measures her pupils’ skulls with calipers, he comments, “Race is to Frau Professor Forster what sex is to a nymphomaniac – she just can’t get enough of it.” Of a trip to Berlin: “The train leaves on time (what else are Führers for?).” Not left out is the German army: “that has valiantly crushed the treacherous Polish attack on the Thousand Year Reich and sternly subdued the sullen and insidious Slav.”
The optimism, euphemisms, and blissful ignorance around him finally wear thin as the war escalates and more and more people disappear. One person who does not have the wool pulled over her eyes is the narrator’s mother, Gabi, whose youthful conversion to Christianity has not erased her Jewish-mother qualities, including a stubborn, single-minded focus on her children’s education. Nor will it protect her from Hitler’s plans for her race.
“Yes, Gabi like Ilse feels guilty. Guilty for being the victim that makes her children victims, while the Führer and his cronies who have brought her to this pass are proudly pinning medals on each other’s chests and dreaming of a new Berlin – Germania, the Jew-free capital of their Jew-free Reich. (Most of them are also kind to dogs.)”
Fortunately, the story does not end there.
New is no novice when it comes to historical novels. His The China Coast Trilogy spans most of the twentieth century and deals with the British presence in China. He has also written novels set in India, Egypt, and Europe. This experience shows in The Kaminsky Cure in New’s patient development of the deterioration of his protagonist’s optimism.
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