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Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen
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Omega Minor (2004)

by Paul Verhaeghen

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Not a big fan of the genre, but heard raves abt this.

  Linus_Linus | Jul 6, 2008 |
A fantastically realized work of fiction. Omega Minor revolves around multitudinous characters and intertwining themes. Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany juxtaposed against other jews being hunted to earth by Gestapo agents in Berlin--before and during World War II--juxtaposed again against a more modern day Germany split into two countries--one in which the East walls off the West only to eventually collapse when the wall is torn down. In between Verhaeghen weaves in sideplot after sideplot--fascinating reading on pre-war Germany, jews hiding out among the gentiles of Berlin and the race to construct the atomic bomb. Shuttling back and forth in time we go into the 1990's with neo-nazi skinheads wreaking mayhem on the Berlin subway system and towards the real potential of a modern day nuclear holocaust. What particularly stands out and holds this together is Verhaeghens marvelous command of his material. Originally published in Flemish--Verhaeghen as it happens even translates his own work. This is a massive 691 pages--which in a more standardized format could probably--I'm guessing--hit close to a 1000 pages. Verhaeghen--a cognitive psychologist currently living in the United States has got the talent to be a major writer in the 21st century. Judging by this I would think he has the drive. His astute insights into his characters almost effortlessly fleshes them out. Despite the books length it is never boring although it sometimes might be a chore to keep abreast of all the characters and threads. Anyway I enjoyed it very much and highly recommend it. ( )
2 vote lriley | Feb 19, 2008 |
This is a very long, very slowly-paced novel that takes patience to read.

It revolves around the lives of several characters who have lived and experienced some notably grim segments of the 20th Century. The life story of Jozef deHeer, a survivor of Auschwitz, provides the main focus for the book, while Paul Goldfarb is eventually a Nobel Laureate whose career path takes him from Europe to Harvard to the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. The principal narrator is Paul Andermans, a psychology major whose field is memory research, who falls into the role of listening to and recording deHeer's recounting of his life experiences. Hannah Sidis is a post-doctoral researcher seeking to discover the magnetic monopole and she is also voyager into Goldfarb's bed just as Donatella is into Alderman's bed. In addition a group of Skinheads, who bring the historical coverage right up to the minute, are plotting a major disruptive event and in the meantime are wreaking physical violence and injury with baseball bats and bare knuckles on randomly encountered Jews in the streets and subways of Berlin.

Verhaeghen seems to have no end of patience, nor ever to fail for words, as he provides detailed and filled-in pictures for the quotidian lives of each of his characters, some from childhood on. Given the overall story, emphasis falls on detailed descriptions of Germany during the rise of Hitler, and especially during the Holocaust. But in addition one reads briefly of the changes at Harvard University as faculty and bright doctoral students are siphoned off into the Manhattan Project and disappear unaccountably overnight. And one reads a relatively brief description of the small-city encampment of physicists, engineers, technicians and administrative personnel which was created for the bomb project, out in the desert behind securely guarded closed gates at Los Alamos. If any of this is new to the reader it can make interesting reading. All the famous names are there. For myself, I have to say, that the victimization of Jews that is seen through deHeer's recollections, and of their transport and murder in the unconscionable horrors of Auschwitz, seems pallid compared to more grisly and horrific descriptions that have long been available in both fiction and fact. To my reading, the author evokes no new depth of emotional reaction nor does he provide any expanded insight into that gruesome story, again in my opinion.

All of this is background information and it takes 550 pages to complete, before the dramatic tension rises and the makings of a dramatic novel seem to appear. The lifelines of the characters finally begin to intersect and play themselves out only in the remaining 150 pages. My reaction is that there are precious few plot lines to support the weight of this novel of almost 700 pages. A girl, Nebula, who has been in and out of the story all along as a photographer recording events, arises as an avenging angel in a major plot twist. In addition the Skinhead threat provides complications to be addressed. And, also, one of the characters has had a major secret from the reader throughout nearly the entire book, which only comes to the surface in the closing pages. One has to question whether one really must read 550 pages of quasi-historical background for only 150 pages of plotted 'story.'

What takes so long? Words. Words. Words. Descriptions run on and on and they are variously imaginative or memorable or even indeed brilliant. The orgasmic climax that opens the book -- the first of many that the author uses to document character's feelings for one another -- is well and artistically imagined. Memorable also are the several times where one hears a certain kind of European disdain for America and Americans explained and laid out in mocking detail. And finally, brilliantly vivid descriptions come to mind for the historic torchlight parade accompanying Hitler's triumph 70 years ago and for a chilling proclamation of the Skinhead dogma of today. Otherwise, the words just go on, at length, to slowly advance the minutiae of the story or indulge the sometimes sophomoric philosophizing of the characters, such as "Evil is the only reality . . " and so on.

The book begins at a literal climax and then wends its way down to a bleat: the world will go on. Such also were my high hopes to begin, and then my disappointment by the end. But, the world will go on. ( )
2 vote Karlus | Jan 9, 2008 |
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Im Anfang war die Tat.
En ter afsluiting van die Daad - die virtuoos vertolkte serpentijnen dans op de zwartsatijnen achtergrond van de diepste nacht - slingert een zuiver witte bliksem zich een kwart van een seconde lang los van de greep der zwaartekracht.
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While in hospital after having been beaten up by neo-Nazis, Paul meets Jozef de Heer, an elderly Jew who has tried to take his own life. De Heer survived Auschwitz thanks to his talents as a conjuror and later became involved in the building of the Berlin Wall. Paul decides to write De Heer's story.… (more)

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