The Decision – A Novel
By Brita Bohler
Haus Publishing – £14.99
”Everything about that man is repugnant, the tough performance of the ‘ordinary soldier,’ the melodrama, and that voice. ‘That man sounds like a rabid chained-up dog,’ he says to Katja every time a speech by Hitler can be heard on the radio. The voice reveals the man’s limitless resentment, the festering vindictiveness of someone who has been rejected again and again, the eternal failure. The permanent loser who is good for nothing but who, with his calculated eloquence, stirs up the people’s wounds and has cleverly connected his own vindictive feelings to the feelings of the inferiority of the masses.”
How eloquent itself.
How correct, and, dare I say, perfect a summing up of such a vile human being that both coaxed and led Germany unto the precipice of nigh utter and complete destruction.
It is 1936 and the great German novelist, Thomas Mann, has to make a terrible and almost impossible decision. Over three days in Switzerland, the writer is tormented by the indecision as to whether or not publicly denounce the ghastly Nazi regime in the Swiss press.
Hence the title of this brave, utterly well-conceived, revealing and what’s more, rather beautiful book.
The Decision by the Dutch authoress Britta Bohler, quintessentially tells the story of what can happen and become of the human soul, when ravenously forced to be complicit within the confined parameters of a political, human hell.
What’s more, it does so with all the magnanimous, truthful fortitude of a writer, who wishes to both share and bequeath the reader with what it must have been like to have been an intelligent individual, trying to come to terms with a barbaric regime.
A regime what’s more, that was clearly out of control: ”And suddenly it burst and everything found a way out. All that had remained unarticulated for a long time had finally come to the surface and had, as it were, naturally seized control of the whole country. Like an acid that slowly but surely seeps into the soil, deeper and deeper. An acid that penetrates all the layers until everything is corroded and damaged. And the populace, wounded and misunderstood, numbed by the promises, considers itself future-oriented, brave, and revolutionary. What a dismal misunderstanding!”
Haunted by the aforementioned decision as to whether or not choose exile and to abandon his German readership – not to mention all and any hope of ever returning home; this overtly powerful, yet concise book, sheds an intrinsically critical light on what it must have been like for Mann to live through (and come to terms with) three of the most traumatic days of his life. In so doing, it inadvertently asks us how we might have behaved in similar circumstances.
Simultaneously tortured and terrific. The Decision is an absolute gem of a read.