“‘It’s alive. Alive in a man. He is the Chosen One.’ Her eyes shone as she looked at me. ‘I know you don’t believe me,’ she said. ‘ But mark my words: it will happen here. In Munich. Not just according to Sebottendorff. Astrology has predicted it too. And Nostradamus.’
‘So where is this…”Chosen One”… now?’
‘No one knows where He is. But we know He’s coming. Soon.’”
It is always going to be difficult writing a book about Hitler as a 16 to young 30-yr old because of the monstrous things he later carried out. Claus Hant manages though to introduce you to someone who is interesting and able to exploit problems, mainly economic as well as political, to seize the moment to emerge from the shadows as the Fuhrer.
But Young Hitler is also selfish, cruel, mad and a totally unpleasant friend to have as the voice of the narrator manages to convey repeatedly. By combining four friendships Hitler had at different stages in his youth it is possible to have an uninterrupted narrative of the Hitler who walks into a Linz cafe one afternoon to the man who flunks art school in Vienna, ends up in a tramps hostel selling his small paintings in Munich and then a solider winning the Iron Cross in the First World War.
For me that was the biggest lesson of reading this book. I had seen the picture taken of a young Hitler with his smudgy moustache taken at the front but had assumed that he saw little action and spent most of his time well behind the front line. Because that view was wrong it has made me think again about some of the moments in the Second World War when Hitler told his generals what to do. It makes slightly more sense considering he had a fair amount of military experience.
But back to the selfish maniac and Hant portrays Hitler as a man that essentially has two skills. The first is to take the views and histories of others and simplify them, combine them and retell them in his own forthright homespun philosophy. This means that occasionally he contradicts himself, is bluntly opportunistic when he gets the chance and is always refining his views with them getting progressively darker and more anti-semetic.
The other skill that emerges towards the end of the book is his ability to keep a hall of thousands hanging off his every word. His hypnotic eyes and thunderous speeches of course became signatures of his leadership but here they start with Hitler trying to convert and convince his friend Martin and then fellow soldiers and eventually the Munich population.
The character of Martin, the narrator, just about works although you do wonder why he doesn’t leave someone so selfish. He is used as an extension of the German people feeling magnetically pulled back to this man who is clearly known as a monster to those around him. The eyes, the conviction and the energy levels make it difficult to ignore someone who is after all a failed student and oddball.
The tragedy is of course that just as the country started to fall apart after the end of the war and a messy peace with communists and then right wingers fighting on the streets Hitler emerged as a strong voice. His real talent perhaps lay in knowing when to step forward. But of course the causes of his later downfall were all there from the very start and those, like Martin, who were closest to him had seen them exhibited all the way through his youth.
There is quite a lot of useful information about the book over at the Young Hitler web site.
Having read Castle in the Forest the idea of reading about Hitler’s youth is one that fills you with apprehension. Not just because you fear Mailer type oddness but because this is a character that you instinctively can not like.
But a book coming from the man behind the screen play of Downfall, Claus Hant, is going to have an authority on the subject that perhaps other authors would lack.
You meet Hitler at the age of 16 when the year’s of parental abuse from his father are behind him and he is reading widely and starting his political education. Hant merges into one character the four friends Hitler had at various stages of his youth and through the eyes of piano playing Martin you start to see Hitler develop his ideas.
His only positive quality is his boundless energy and his talent lies in simplifying ideas from others and merging them into his own philosophy. But his cruelty, selfishness and tendency to opt for views from the more bizarre ends of the spectrum are worrying.
A review will follow soon…