Dealing with universal questions surrounding identity, forgiveness, and unconditional love, "Not Me" is the heart wrenching story of a son who learns ...Show synopsisDealing with universal questions surrounding identity, forgiveness, and unconditional love, "Not Me" is the heart wrenching story of a son who learns in his father's final hours that the devoutly Jewish man may have actually been a Nazi.Hide synopsis
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This is a first novel. It suffers from cliche at times, and in the end gets terribly sentimental and self-conscious about being an American Jew in one's fifties without having understood what being Jewish means - having missed out on the Holocaust and Zionism. But it reads fast. The first person narrative - the son who is struggling to cope with a father with Alzheimers disease and cancer - is a quirky, funny, sometimes maudlin soul trying to sort out his relationship with his wife and his son. The narrator's son, a middle schooler named Josh, is sympathetic most of the time, but the narrator's wife definitely is not. Separated from his wife and son in California, this middle-aged father is alone in Florida and having a hard time taking care of Dad. Failing at being a father himself the narrator quickly learns that his ailing octogenarian father is not exactly who he says he is. But the ambiguity of grandpa's identity is (too) quickly extinguished (to the detriment of the novel, I think) through the translation of the grandfather's German diaries. While not exactly a war criminal of high order, the SS officer Heinrich Muller, explains how he transforms himself from accountant to victim in a few short weeks before the Camps are overrun by Allied armies. Muller starves himself, adds the blue ink number tatoo to his arm, adopts the name of a corpse, and then gets swept up in the displaced persons program. Soon he is on his way to a kibbutz in Palestine. He ends up in the Palmach, fighting in Israel's war for indepedence and survival. Romance and self-hatred take hold in equal measure. Perhaps he will simply run down to Gaza and tell the Egyptians who he really is and leave these Jews behind him?! These parts, set south of Jerusalem and along the northern end of the Negev presumably (and his continuing dialogue regarding his self-hatred) are the best part of the book.
In the end, however, the tension over Dad's identity doesn't bring resonance to the American son's personal issues so much as give us a look at the way in which people can get caught up in the crushing events of the 1940s, especially if they were European Jews, and German. The character of the 'Nazi' father is better imagined, I think, than that of the comic son, and the possiblity of "lying narrator" (the father's diaries and conversations with the son) might've been better exploited in order to leave the reader with greater puzzle and wonderment. In the end it gets a bit sappy and repetitive - how many times will his mother's hat float across the pool as an expression of grief and deracination? The opportunity for a cross-generational discourse is sidelined for nebulous emotional effect at the end. We do see, of course, that one can make up a life, and that in truth, the fear of being tainted by our original sins can lead us to transform ourselves. The searing experience of the camps and the death of his daughter reveal a strong belief in an old testament God whose knowledge of our fundamental character is not forgiving.
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