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Cesare: A Novel of War-Torn Berlin by Jerome…

Cesare: A Novel of War-Torn Berlin

by Jerome Charyn

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On a windy night in 1937, a seventeen-year-old German naval sub-cadet is wandering along the seawall when he stumbles upon a gang of ruffians beating up a tramp, whose life he saves. The man is none other than spymaster Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, German military intelligence. Canaris adopts the young man and dubs him "Cesare" after the character in the silent filmThe Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for his ability to break through any barrier as he eliminates the Abwehr's enemies. Canaris is a man of contradictions who, while serving the regime, seeks to undermine the Nazis and helps Cesare hide Berlin's Jews from the Gestapo. But the Nazis will lure many to Theresienstadt, a phony paradise in Czechoslovakia with sham restaurants, novelty shops, and bakeries, a cruel ghetto and way station to Auschwitz. When the woman Cesare loves, a member of the Jewish underground, is captured and sent there, Cesare must find a way to rescue her. Cesare is a literary thriller and a love story born of the horrors of a country whose culture has died, whose history has been warped, and whose soul has disappeared.… (more)

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"They would embroider, multiply, manufacture, until I was their Caligari with his slave, Cesare, who strangled enemies of the Reich at will and then returned to his coffin at Tipitz-Ufer." ~Admiral William Canaris in Cesare by Jerome Charyn

From the beginning, I knew I had entered a noir world of tales and terror where fantasy and fact spun a deeper journey into the known, for surely nothing can convey truth better than fiction.

Reading Cesare by Jerome Charyn I knew I had to see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari again, for the imagery of the doctor and his sleepwalking murderer is central to the novel. It is set in a world gone mad and filled with madmen. Yes, I am talking about the movie--and I am talking about the novel.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a 1920 German film in which horror builds upon horror, the action set against contorted Expressionist Art sets. A doctor is monomaniacally obsessed with controlling a somnambulist, Cesare, who in his sleep murders on command. In the end, we are unsure who is really mad.

"We were all madmen at the Abwehr. We had to be. How else could we have survived the Furher's fiery wind day after day? "~ Admiral William Canaris in Cesare by Jerome Charyn

In Jerome Charyn's Cesare, we met the orphan Erik Holdermann, raised by whores who pool their money to send him to school. There he is discovered by a benevolent department store baron who sends Eric to his an estranged uncle--only to be treated like a household slave. But the Uncle's daughter, the imperious Lisalein, bewitches the boy. Lisalein is fierce and beautiful, a cruel Estella toward men; under the Nazis she becomes a crusading angel for the Jews.

While at cadet school Eric unwittingly saved the life of Admiral Canaris, the head of the "asylum called the Abwehr," the German Military Intelligence. Canaris brings Eric into the Abwehr to eliminates their enemies, becoming Dr. Caligari to Eric's Cesare.

Eric is Admiral Canaris' liaison with the Nazi Gestapo and SS; the Abwehr was at odds with them, hiding and protecting select Jews, one Jew at a time. Eric was protected and feared by his reputation, for the enemies of the Abwehr disappeared.

"Hitler's mad dominions meant nothing to Erik. He was loyal to Uncle Willie and played Cesare for him. "~ from Cesare by Jerome Charyn

To rescue Lisalien, Eric enters the contorted reality of Theresienstadt, a PR facade constructed to hide the truth of the Nazi death camps.

The book reads like a twisted dark fairy tale, stepped in the details of a time in history so chillingly horrific some deny it ever happened. And like all good horror stories, it will disturb your sleep.

I was given access to an egalley by the publisher through Edelweiss in return for a fair and unbiased review. ( )
  nancyadair | Jul 2, 2019 |
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