Saturday, January 8, 2011

fact of hitler's love!!!!!!!

By Ron Hansen.
310 pp. New York:
HarperCollins Publishers. $25.
In her poem ''Hitler's First Photograph,'' Wislawa Szymborska, the Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, asks: ''And who's this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe? / That's tiny baby Adolf, the Hitlers' little boy! . . . / Where will those tootsy-wootsies finally wander? / To a garden, to a school, to an office, to a bride?''

In ''Hitler's Niece,'' Ron Hansen, the author of ''Mariette in Ecstasy'' and ''The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,'' among other books, seeks to answer those questions, which in the end boil down to -- how human are the inhuman? Dictators are most difficult to portray when they are at the height of their power, for by then they have sacrificed the conscience, compassion and humor that make us human. Tyrants are their own first victim. For that reason -- and in this there is a form of justice -- Anne Frank is more real to us than Hitler.
The very title of this work invites us to consider Hitler in a new light, not as Fhrer but as Onkel. But Hitler was no ordinary uncle -- his relationship with his niece Geli Raubal, the daughter of his half sister, is said to have been a noxious brew of avuncular solicitude and erotic obsession that led to the young woman's death at 23. Officially her death was labeled a suicide, though Hansen prefers homicide by Hitler himself as an explanation. Clearly it's the more dramatic solution, but since Uncle Adolf no doubt drove his niece to her death, there is at the very least a symbolic truth to this version. Ultimately, it does not matter greatly just how she died. What counts here is the depiction of Hitler, of his niece and of their relationship, perhaps the most grotesque of all concepts -- Hitler in love.
Geli is filled with the anarchic mischief of youth, and at her most winning when puncturing the pomposities of her uncle and his cronies. Rescued from poverty by Hitler, she is exhilarated and corrupted by her realization that her uncle's infatuation with her gives her power over him. At first she enjoys that power merrily as her uncle spoils her: ''Geli was new to luxuries and having money, and with a flirtatious tyranny forced her uncle to wait like a forbearing husband as she tried on 20 hats then settled on a beret, or dotted her wrists with French perfumes and held them to his fussy and defenseless nose.''

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