By Sara Hodon
by Thaisa Frank
Hardcover: 320 pages, November 1, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-1582437194
More than sixty years later, the world is still struggling to come to terms with the atrocities committed during World War II. In her new novel, Heidegger’s Glasses, author Thaisa Frank, offers readers a glimpse into a very dark chapter of human history. The Third Reich, whose power seems secure but whose leaders don’t want to take any chances, have created a Compound of Scribes, a group of recruits housed in a converted mine shaft whose sole responsibility is to answer letters written to the dead. The officers in charge don’t want to run the risk of a relative visiting a psychic and inadvertently learning about the Third Reich’s plan for the Final Solution from their dead relative.
The novel centers on a letter written innocently by revered philosopher Martin Heidegger to his optometrist Asher Englehardt, a gentleman who is later found toiling away in the prison camp at Auschwitz. Heidegger receives a reply from Englehardt that makes no sense, even for him (the friends would often discuss improbable theories and very complex, abstract thoughts; both were known to ramble on in letters and would make little sense to anyone else besides each other), and the letter bothers him on many levels. He starts to inquire about the whereabouts of his friend, and this is when the Third Reich begins to get squeamish. A secondary storyline focuses on Elie Schacten, a Scribe with a sort of renegade side (she forms good relations with the black market and brings more food to the prisoners at the Compound, and sneaks prisoners to Switzerland when she can) who is torn between her love for a fellow Scribe and the need to protect the prisoners, particularly a little boy named Dimitri, who appears to have been orphaned. Elie sess him during one of her trips to the city, weakens, and brings him back to the Compound with her, where she assumes responsibility for his care.
Frank gives readers a rare taste of what it was really like to be inside the Third Reich. Of course most of us have heard stories of Hitler’s quest for world domination, and unfortunately we’ve all heard stories about the death camps, but Frank’s novel falls somewhere in between. The story is more of what the officers endured on a regular basis. Infamous figures like Himmler and Goebbels make their appearance in the book, and Frank is able to write with empathy for the victims of the death camps and yet with a bit of restraint, particularly in chapters focused on the officers and everyday war duties.
At the beginning of each chapter, Frank includes a “letter” from a Jewish prisoner (actually written by a Scribe, of course). Many of these letters are touching and give no indication of what actually happened to these people. In fact, many of the letter writers ask their relatives to come and join them at this wonderful place—a small but sinister detail that no doubt had some truth to it.
Heidegger’s Glasses is an elegantly written, poignant book that gives readers yet another dimension to the events of World War II.
About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the “Date and Relate” columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com