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Monday, February 17, 2020

Book Review! Wolf: A Novel by Herbert J. Stern & Alan A. Winter

Wolf: A Novel by Herbert J. Stern & Alan A. Winter
Genre: Adult Fiction (Historical Fiction)
Date Published: February 11, 2020
Publisher: Skyhorse

In the Great Tradition of Herman Wouk, Author of Winds of War and War and Remembrance, Wolf is a Thoroughly Researched and Illustrated Historical Novel about a Man who is Not Yet a Monster . . . but Will Soon Become the Ultimate One: Adolf Hitler.

Perhaps no man on Earth is more controversial, more hated, or more studied than Adolf Hitler. His exploits and every move are well-documented, from the time he first became chancellor and then dictator of Germany to starting World War II to the systematic killing of millions of Jews. But how did he achieve power, and what was the makeup of the mind of a man who would deliberately inflict unimaginable horrors on millions of people?

Meet Friedrich Richard, an amnesiac soldier who, in 1918, encounters Hitler in the mental ward at Pasewalk Hospital. Hitler, then a corporal, diagnosed as a psychopath and helpless, suffering from hysterical blindness, introduces himself as Wolf to Friedrich and becomes dependent upon Friedrich for assistance, forming an unbreakable bond between the two men.

Follow Friedich—our protagonist—who interacts with real people, places, and events, through the fifteen-year friendship that witnesses Hitler turn from a quiet painter into a megalomaniacal dictator. Using brand-new historical research to construct a realistic portrait of the evolving Hitler, Wolf will satisfy, by turns, history buffs and fiction fans alike. And as this complex story is masterfully presented, it answers the question of how a nondescript man became the world’s greatest monster.

This is a special review, because I've invited my husband to the blog today as a guest reviewer. He was a High School History and Geography teacher for 14 years and is one of the smartest people I know. When I saw this book, I knew it was right up his alley. WWII is one of his favorite areas of study, so who better to review this book? I'm very excited to have him here today, so I'll get out of the way now and let him take over.

Wolf was an interesting novel that, quite honestly, continued to get better the further into the book I read. I applaud the authors for giving us real historical characters that were well researched. This gives them a depth not normally found in many historical fiction novels. The handful of fictional characters each had their place and helped give the protagonist, Friedrich Richard, purpose and meaning beyond his relationship with Hitler. 

Hitler, while the titular character, is a character throughout the book who disappears at times only to resurface at the most inopportune times for our protagonist. This is essential as it gives us a clear third party look at the rise of Adolph Hitler, from unknown Austrian corporal to leader of a nation. The novel also goes through great pains to show why the Nazi party was appealing to a number of Germans, but also did not hide the fact that it never had true majority support of the entire nation on its own. The up and down struggle of the Nazi party and its leaders throughout the 1920’s is well portrayed.

The main character of Friedrich is a great choice as a protagonist. Being a purely fictional character, the authors are able to develop him unhindered by a true history. I also applaud using his wounding at the Battle of the Somme as the starting point. The Somme was one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Germany alone suffered almost 600,000 casualties. That a man could come through with no memory and no identification is plausible. One would think that someone might have recognized a 6’7’’ giant of a man in the Freikorps. Once again though due to the large number of casualties Germany suffered in the final two years of the war, it is possible that none in his unit survived the conflict. I also enjoyed the fact that Friedrich was conflicted with some of the Nazi party’s key beliefs. This put him into believable conflict with key Party members, which added to the richness of the story.

Overall this is a solid read. If you want a different perspective on the Nazi rise to power, that while fictional, is based in fact then I think you will enjoy Wolf. I hope that the authors will pen a sequel that is as well researched and believable. 

Thanks to my wonderful, beautiful wife for giving me a chance to steal a little space on her blog!

The ARC of Wolf: A Novel by Herbert J. Stern & Alan A. Winter was kindly provided to me by RABT PR for review. The opinions are my own.

I had my own sessions with Dr. Forster. “Tell me, Friedrich, what have you learned about your friend, the one they call Wolf?”
“Is it correct for me to discuss another patient with you?”
“I don’t see why not,” Forster answered. “You would be helping me understand him better.”
Dr. Forster saw I was skeptical.
“Let me share what I can,” Forster said. “Wolf came from a dysfunctional family. His father was a cruel, brutal man incapable of loving his son or anyone else. A drunkard and a wife beater who openly philandered. When he died, Wolf experienced a great sense of relief. But this respite was short-lived. Soon after, his mother became sick. She had a most painful death.”
I tried to remember something Wolf had said. “He did mention a Dr. Bloch to me. He said that the doctor did everything he could to make her comfortable, but that nothing worked.”
Dr. Forster leaned closer, a conspirator sharing a secret. “That is part of his problem, Friedrich. On the one hand, this Jewish Doktor Bloch was the kind father Wolf never had. Indeed, Wolf continued to have an emotional tie to Bloch long after his mother passed. He sent Dr. Bloch paintings—street scenes—that he painted when he moved to Vienna.”
I was impressed. “He didn’t have to do that.”
“Ah . . . but there’s another side to this. Subconsciously, Wolf also resents the doctor because he could not relieve his mother’s pain.”
“I don’t see how any of this bears on his blindness after a gas attack.”
“Before I explain, there is something else you should know. Wolf recited a poem from memory that he claims to have written in homage to his mother. It’s a touching poem. It talks about a mother growing older and what used to be easy for her now takes a greater effort. The poem goes on to describe that as the mother travels on her last journey, growing weaker and sicker, she may no longer be able to understand what her son says anymore, but the son should remain joyful until the last, bitter hour.”
“That is how he described his mother’s death to me. But, Dr. Forster, what does this have to do with the fact that Wolf cannot see?”
Forster grew animated as he explained. “Don’t you see? Wolf has linked Germany losing this war to his mother’s slow death. As a result he transferred his mother’s pain to his eyes.”
“How can you possibly connect his blindness to his mother dying and Germany’s defeat?”
“Because it’s not real.”

“What’s not real?”

“The poem.” Forster tapped the side of his head. “That’s not how I meant to say it. The poem is very real. The sentiments are beautiful.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Wolf didn’t write the poem. Georg Runsky wrote it more than a dozen years ago.”
 “I don’t understand. What are you saying?”
“It means that Wolf’s problem is more difficult to treat than I first imagined. He suffers from hysterical blindness. A French physician—Paul Briquet— first described a syndrome seventy years ago in which the mind can do strange things in order to cope with emotional and psychological stresses. Wolf has never gotten over his mother’s death and now he is challenged with Germany’s metaphorical death. This dynamic translates into Wolf shutting down a sensory organ. In his case, it’s his eyes. And to make matters worse, he has taken a poem written by someone else and convinced himself that he is its author.”
I followed Dr. Forster’s explanation as best I could. “Is there nothing you can do for him?”
Before answering, Forster struck a match and said through a stream of smoke, “Wolf will remain blind for the rest of his life . . . unless something gives him permission to see again.”
“Could my memory loss be a variation of what Wolf is experiencing?”
Forster shook his head. “No, it’s different. His issues are deeply personal and psychological. Given the head trauma you received, yours appears to be organic. I haven’t given up on you. There are still treatments available to try.” 

Herbert J. Stern, formerly US attorney for the District of New Jersey, who prosecuted the mayors of Newark and Atlantic City, and served as judge of the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, is a trial lawyer. He also served as judge of the United States Court for Berlin where he presided over a hijacking trial in the occupied American Sector of West Berlin. His book about the case, Judgment in Berlin, won the 1974 Freedom Foundation Award and became a film starring Martin Sheen and Sean Penn. He also wrote Diary of a DA: The True Story of the Prosecutor Who Took on the Mob, Fought Corruption, and Won, as well as the multi-volume legal work Trying Cases to Win.

Alan A. Winter is the author of four novels, including Island Bluffs, Snowflakes in the Sahara, Someone Else’s Son, and Savior’s Day, which Kirkus selected as a Best Book of 2013. Winter graduated from Rutgers with a degree in history and has professional degrees from both New York University and Columbia, where he was an associate professor for many years. He edited an award-winning journal and has published more than twenty professional articles. Winter studied creative writing at Columbia’s Graduate School of General Studies. His screenplay, Polly, received honorable mention in the Austin Film Festival, and became the basis for Island Bluffs.

To learn more about these authors, visit their website.You can also find them on Goodreads, Facebook, & Instagram.

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