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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Children of Wrath: A Novel (audiobook) by Paul Grossman

I have rarely been carried into another world so thoroughly as I was by this audiobook.

Published by HighBridge Audio in April of 2012.
Read by Kyle Munley.
Duration: 12 hours, 13 minutes.

Paul Grossman's Children of Wrath is a dark detective story set in one of the most tragic situations in all of history: The Weimar Republic in the weeks before the rise of the Nazis. A series of murders of boys combined with the impending failure of Germany's experiment with democracy, the collapse of the American stock market and the open street fighting between the Nazis and the Communists makes this tragic piece drip with a sense of the impending descent of Germany into the madness that enveloped it after the Nazis took command.

Willi Kraus is the only Jewish detective in the Berlin police force (and perhaps all of Germany). He is a decorated veteran of World War I but his country treats him with no respect because he is Jewish. His fellow detectives refuse to be his partner. His supervisor gives him insulting jobs. In this story he is re-assigned from a murder case (a burlap bag of bones from a boy with teeth marks on them is found washed up from a sewer line) to investigate an outbreak of Listeria that has killed consumers of pork sausage, with the implied insult of having a Jewish detective investigate a case involving the famously non-Kosher pork product.

But, as Willi digs into his new case he finds hints that the two cases might actually be connected and he starts his own private investigation as more and more boys go missing and more bones are found. While Kraus investigates,  Grossman gives the reader a series of foreshadowings of the horrors and atrocities that await Germany. The railroad cars that come from Poland filled with hogs and cattle to the butchers in Germany will soon enough come full of people headed for slaughter. Hitler leads small rallies that inflame the passions of many who feel lost. Death camps, human skin used as leather, and science gone wild all make appearances while Goebbels spreads his propaganda in the press.  There are references to "useless mouths" and the incessant prejudice against Jews combine to leave Kraus and his family abandoned by co-workers and neighbors alike.

Grossman notes that this was also a time of a rise of the interest in paganism in Germany and that Hitler built on many of those pagan themes. Christians certainly bear plenty of responsibility for the Nazis, but it was certainly not friendly to traditional Christianity and built on a pagan base as well. At the end of the book Kraus comes across a group of  Hitler Youth who are marching in the street and singing:

"We are the joyous Hitler Youth
Our leader is our savior.
The Pope and rabbit shall be gone
We want to be pagans again."

With that we know that Germany's future is sealed - the young people have bought into what Hitler is selling and the tragedy will continue to unfold.

This is by no means a perfect book. The climactic ending is too hoaky. It is dramatic, but it feels like the end of a Batman movie (and not one of the good ones, either). I don't want to go into specifics, but it does not fit well with the rest of this unique, moody, tragic book.

Nonetheless, I will still rate this book 5 stars out of 5. I have rarely been carried into another world so thoroughly as I was by this audiobook. Between the excellent writing and the dark tones of the reader, Kyle Munley, this book really got into my head. Munley's great character voices, precise pronunciation of German words and phrases, and his ability to carry the story through all of its ups and downs make this an exceptional audiobook experience.

Reviewed on October 20, 2012.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Children of Wrath by Paul Grossman.

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