All of the subplots in Gail Hareven’s new novel relate back to the story of Aaron Gotthilf, who wrote the book Hitler, First Person. The book asks the readers to forgive the horrific crimes of the Holocaust. As he tries to explain Hitler’s mindset, Gotthilf writes from Hitler’s perspective, attempting to make him a real and sympathetic human being.
While writing the novel, Gotthilf was welcomed in his cousin’s household, where he raped and impregnated one of the children, Elisheva. The main character, Elinor, has never recovered from this hideous crime that culminated in her sister’s abortion and mental breakdown, as well as her mother’s suicide. What unleashes Elinor’s anger thirty years later is the “apology tour” of her uncle, who wants to see her, but even more powerful is the trip she takes to America to warn her sister. She is disgusted when she finds out her sister has become a born-again Christian, while corresponding with, and forgiving Gotthilf. As her rage accelerates Elinor becomes obsessed with the urge “to see Aaron burn.” Aaron is cruel on a personal level for the unpunished crime of raping her sister numerous times and on a societal level for authoring such an outrageous narrative.
What makes this storyline interesting is how the author takes a societal issue, the Holocaust, and condenses the evil to one crime, the rape of Elisheva. The lingering question asked throughout the book is, how should someone confront evil? Do they forgive, as in the case of Elisheva, do they seek revenge and vengeance, as in the case of Elinor, or do they cast out the antagonist with a firestorm of criticism, as in the case of the Holocaust survivors’ reactions to Gotthilf?
Lies, First Person is a portrait of a woman’s obsession. The plot gets into the head of the main character, Elinor, as she struggles with her own emotions. The comparison with Hitler allows for a well-developed plot as Elinor tries to wipe forever the evil Gotthilf from her life and mind, just as many Holocaust victims did with Hitler.
- Julia Dahl: Why I Write About Crime
- Randy Susan Meyers: Collective Guilt vs. Collective Fear: Shame, Truth, and Reconciliation
- Rabbi Barry Schwartz: The First Jewish Debate