CHILD OF THE LIGHT
by Janet Berliner & George Guthridge
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Child of the Light is the first novel of Janet Berliner and George Guthridge's "Madagascar Manifesto" trilogy. Focusing on Erich Weisser and Solomon Freund, the book gives a brutal depiction of interbellum Berlin.
When the novel opens, the two boys, aged ten, are best friends. Erich's father, a mild anti-Semite, works for Solomon's father, a Jew. From this beginning, the boys' destinies as the novel progresses are set.
Solomon Freund is a young Jewish scholar, given to visions. The beadle of his synagogue hints that he may be a mystic and a visionary in the tradition of Isaac Luria. In Child of the Light, however, little is seen of his abilities beyond some dreams which may be hallucinations or which may be caused by a dybbuk living inside him. Although a likable character, he is far less interesting than his best friend, Erich Weisser.
As mentioned above, Weisser's father is mildly anti-Semitic. He is also distant from his son, showing Erich none of the love Jacob Freund demonstrates towards Solomon. Combining these characteristics with his own sense of helplessness and loneliness, Erich turns to the Freikorps-Youth for friendship and a sense of belonging. Throughout the novel, Erich retains his friendship to the Freund family, even as he accepts the anti-Semitism endemic to the Third Reich.
Erich's character demonstrates how normal German citizens could permit the Nazi attrocities to grow over the years. In some ways, the biggest weakness in Child of the Light is the tendency to skip weeks, or years of time. Although this allows Berliner and Guthridge to show how anti-Jewish sentiment grew over the years, it also means that they aren't showing subtle advances either in national sentiment or personal relationships.
A third major character to enter the story is Miriam Rathenau, the Jewish neice of Germany's assassinated Foreign Minister, Walther von Rathenau. Both Erich and Solomon fall in love with her at first sight. Over the years, their paths continue to cross, Erich unable to divest himself of his affection for her despite his growing anti-Semitism, Solomon unable to declare his feelings. Although Berliner and Guthridge hint that Miriam's relationship to Solomon is closer than her relationship to Erich, since it mostly grows off-stage or in years not shown, it is difficult to judge.
Billed as a dark fantasy, the fantastic elements in Child of the Light are limited to Solomon's dreams, a gypsy fortune-teller who looks into Adolf Hitler's future, and Erich's apparent ability to converse with dogs, although Erich, himself, questions whether this is actually occurring.
The novel ends with Solomon preparing to leave Berling to join his family in exile in Amsterdam. Meanwhile, Erich is becoming important as a guard for Joseph Goebbels, although he is also in constant danger for his continued association with Jews. Miriam, needing to choose between the two men. Given the background, Erich and Solomon's abilities will also expand in future volumes of the series.
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