The eyewitness /

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Main Author: Weiss, Ernst, 1882-1940.
Format: Book
Language:English
Published:Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
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Review by Kirkus Book Review

It is not until halfway through this 1939 novel--after the German narrator-doctor-hero has told us all about himself, his philandering father, and his bedridden mother--that its raison d'etre surfaces: the doctor's final WW I posting is to a reserve hospital for ""emotionally crippled"" servicemen, and there he encounters one ""A.H.,"" an emaciated ""continual disturber of the peace"" who is suffering from hysterical blindness. ""He preferred to be blind rather than to see the overthrow of Germany,"" the psychiatrist reports, and proceeds to cure A.H.--in one miracle session--by the ""superior force of my desire as a doctor,"" telling the patient: ""You have to have a blind faith in yourself, then you will stop being blind. . . . Everything is possible for you."" Of course, the doctor never meant A.H. to push his blind faith so far as to take over Germany, and, eyewitnessing the Nazi rise, he feels guilty: ""I had given him the belief in himself as a divine miracle."" Worse feelings await when he is arrested and tortured in a concentration camp--A.H. wants those potentially myth-blowing medical records. (The doctor had never revealed their contents to anyone, unwilling to break the physician's oath of confidentiality: ""I could not live without honor."") The doctor's Jewish wife surrenders the papers, there's marital tension and an escape to Paris, and the fade-out has the doctor departing for the battlegrounds of Spain. How much fact--how much fiction? A foreword discloses that Weiss (a doctor himself) based the treatment sequence on facts received from the psychiatrist (like Weiss, a Hitlerera suicide) who was indeed Corporal A.H.'s physician. So. . . a tantalizing historical footnote. But the novel is only spottily effective: too ambitious to exploit the Hitler incident craftily--too erratically paced, oddly constructed, and politically fuzzy to work on its own terms. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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