the many voices heard throughout the novel are orchestrated in a way that offers a multifaceted view of a complicated era. It is hard to imagine this novel taking any other form and still grappling as it does with the moral atmosphere its protagonist finds himself in, with rampant anti-Semitism permeating the nation he inhabits, among other things.
The sheer intrigue of the narrative wins out. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be found in Wurtenbaugh’s resurrection of certain key players in World War II; historical figures who are rendered as characters include Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler. Additional appearances are made by unexpected participants like children’s book author A. A. Milne, who makes his voice heard as something of an antiwar activist. Throughout, the novel has the feel of a documentary record, assembled by a careful historian.
Wurtenbaugh’s account is stunningly original, and he plausibly conjures a remarkably full vision of alternative history. Haydenreich is a beautifully drawn character, rich and complex, and the author allows readers considerable latitude in interpreting his motives. Some of the excerpts presented depict Haydenreich as a hero, some as a traitor, and the author wisely shows great restraint by refusing to offer any narrative commentary that definitively nudges readers toward one option or the other. Wurtenbaugh not only conjures a new historical universe, but also a contentious world of scholarship about it, and he invites readers to join in the dispute. His effort is reminiscent of Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America, as both are wildly imaginative and historically grounded. Most importantly, this book humanizes a global tragedy, making its main character’s inner conflict a microcosm of a nation’s intramural disputes. The entire Von Haydenreich family is memorably, fascinatingly dysfunctional, and the author slowly unfurls his protagonist’s plight in a way that seems fragilely contingent and inexorably fated. One minor criticism is that it would have been better if the author didn’t begin the novel with a prefatory note in his own name, and a concluding historical one. The power of the novel is in the immersive experience it offers, and these two invitations to stand outside the fictional cosmos feel unnecessary and diminishing. Nevertheless, this is an impressive work, as bold as it is meticulous.