We seem to learn so little from our mistakes. Voltaire wrote that "history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes." In her first novel, "Heidegger's Glasses," (Counterpoint Press, November) Thaisa Frank uses one of history's greatest crimes, the Holocaust, as the backdrop to an original, imaginitive, and compelling story. Both intellectual and emotional, "Heidegger's Glasses" has plenty of real life lessons which are still relevant today.
Frank deftly uses real figures, most notably, of course, philosopher Martin Heidegger, whose spectacles become a pivotal plot point. Hitler's Propaganda Minster, Joseph Goebbels, and his famous obsession with the occult allow Frank the creative license to chronicle the lives of those imprisoned in a secret underground compound, deep in the German woods. There, a group of scribes and translators are spared death by answering the letters written to those killed in the Nazi death camps. Putting aside the absurd (and haunting) idea of answering letters written to the dead, Frank makes these scribes -a mysterious although ficticious creation - feel very real, their existence plausible and believable.
Frank's other fictional characters are richly conceived, both stuck and yet transcendent in their circumstances. Perhaps each one represents a refugee who actually survived the horrors of the war. But make no mistake, this is no history lesson. It is a dramatic love story, a wartime thriller, and a meditation on how we remember and honor the dead.
Perhaps most importantly, Frank's characters show how, even when stripped of their freedom and virtually all material possessions, the human spirit perseveres and thrives. Even in the face of immense danger, despair, and hopelessness, these scribes value the gift of life and never take it for granted. That is an important and timely message, especially when today's economic challenges have so many people questioning the value of their own lives.
Heidegger is a tour de force whose imagery haunts the reader long after the final page is turned. The book evokes overwhelming feelings of both sadness and hope - I felt richer for having read it. George Bernard Shaw wrote, "if history repeats itself and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience." If nothing else, Heidegger should remind us of those dark paths we have followed in our past in order to enlighten and encourage us to make different and better choices in the future.
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