In 1944, a group of conspirators attempted to assassinate Adolph Hitler inside his bunker in east Prussia. The attempt failed, of course, and the Fuhrer of Nazi Germany escaped with only minor injuries. Almost 5,000 people believed to be involved were executed shortly afterward.
But what if the assassination had succeeded? Imagine how different the course of history would be. That is the premise of The Good German, Dennis Bock’s newest novel.
Instead of 1944, it’s late 1939. Hitler is Chancellor and the madness that was unleashed upon Europe has only just started. German anti-fascist Georg Elser is “mortified for the direction this new Germany seemed so eager to follow”. By eliminating Hitler, Elser believes “a wave of common decency would wash over the country”, changing the course of history and averting war.
Carefully planned and executed, the assassination succeeds. What he couldn’t predict, however, were the consequences. Without giving away the plot, the ramifications of Elser’s one act of courage sets off a thunderstorm of global chaos almost unimaginable in its terror.
The novel weaves masterfully between war-torn Europe of 1938-44 and 1960 small town southern Ontario. Young Wiliiam Teufel, a boy whose mother is German, struggles to understand why he and his family are so hated. Shunned by the town and bullied at school, he is ignorant of the chain of events that have led to the prejudice around him. “...I saw no reason to believe that we weren’t like any other family. Normal is what you know and see everyday when you’re a child...”
Fascinated by a hospice for the blind where his mother worked as penance for her heritage, William eventually devises a plan that he hopes will distance himself from his German ancestry and earn him praise. Ultimately it leads him to the man whose act of heroism decades before set the world on its terrifying path.
This book is everything a good read should be: a fascinating and original premise, a sympathetic and believable cast of characters, an unusual world setting, and a gripping plot, all told through a captivating use of language.
Bock’s novel of alternate history deals with themes of penance, atonement, guilt and innocence, and ultimately, survival and what we do to protect those we love. There were times when I thought this alternate world was just too bleak, too damning of humanity. But the story carried me along until its conclusion. There it showed the good in us, that people are willing to do what’s right to help those who need it. In the end it was affirming and hopeful, at a time when the world can use all of this it can get.
As our world seems at times to be teetering on the edge, and as Canadians living next door to this most unstable of beasts, this book reminds us we have much to be grateful for. Appreciate what we have today - history, both real and factionalized, shows us how one act can send the whole thing slipping off the edge.
A great read by a fine writer. Who, I’m happy to say, I know! Highly recommended.
Wash your hands, wear your mask, stay hopeful.
In the meantime, happy reading!