Monday, March 26, 2007

The Good German

Beyond the obvious, I've found a really good reason to like secondhand bookstores. The Good German originally sold for $35.95 as a hardcover (which seems inconceivable in itself -- when did hardbacks get to be almost $40?). The copy I bought had been remaindered (with the ominous black mark along the bottom) and had an orange sticker of $20.95. By the time it appeared in front of me, it was only $4. Thank God that's all I paid for it. If I had paid nearly $40, I would not be happy.

I guess maybe I didn't know what I was getting with this book. I picked it up because of the commercials for the movie. It was shot in black and white, it looked kind of moody, there was clearly some kind of love story -- I guess I was expecting something more cerebral. I purposely did not read the book jacket before I started reading the book. I didn't want to have any more preconceived ideas about the plot.

The story starts with the Potsdam conference in Berlin just after the end of the war with Germany. Jacob Geismar has arrived to cover the conference for Collier's. But he has an ulterior motive as well: he used to live in Berlin before the war and he's looking for his long-lost love, Lena. Even before Jake finds Lena, a dead American soldier pops up and Jake gets mildly interested in the mystery. But then he finds Lena. And spends the whole first third (or more) of the book nursing her back to health; he seems to lose all interest in the dead soldier. So, I ask myself, why should I care about the dead soldier if the protagonist doesn't?

The second half of the book does pick up a bit in terms of action. Lena's story and that of the dead soldier intertwine, along with the Russians, the black market, the horror of the Holocaust, Nazi scientists, etc. There are a couple of false climaxes before the end. And what seemed to be an average thriller gets bogged down in philosophical arguments. After awhile, on nearly every page, characters have arguments about the "good" Germans. Were there any during the war? Are there any left? Isn't every German guilty of horrible crimes? Of course, it's not that simple. In the midst of such atrocities, there are no black and white arguments to be made. But having the discussion over and over and over again simply dilutes it. After awhile, I just wanted to get to the end.

And, quite frankly, it wasn't a very satisfying end. All the loose ends get tied up. But I sort of didn't really like any of the characters by the end. I was just glad to be finished.

I hesitate to say, "don't read it," because everyone's tastes are different. But if you're looking for a good thriller, you can do better than this.


booklogged said...

Thanks for the review. I've had this on my TBR list for awhile now. I think I'll remove it.

AngryMan said...

I think I'll read this given my interest in post-WWII German film. It sounds right up my alley. Thanks for the review.

Aleda said...

Good words.