Stylistically, Adler’s experiment employs a version of stream-of-consciousness: long, complex, winding sentences that pile up clauses and phrases as if echoing the processes of perception and contemplation. The technique addresses while it imitates Josef Kramer’s personality and states of mind. Technically a third person narration, the final effect is of Josef somehow voicing the narrative, at once inside and outside of himself.
Born into Prague’s German-Jewish community in 1910, Adler captures the transformation of his homeland from a region in the Austro-Hungarian Empire through World War I to its independent statehood (in 1918) and then to its subordination under Nazi Germany. Josef Kramer’s life and vision of himself are impacted by these transitions, as Adler details his surrogate’s family, schooling, young adulthood, early occupations, impressment into forced labor, and imprisonment in concentration-extermination camps. Josef, like his creator, ends up an exile in England, ruminating upon his experiences.
At once realistic and impressionistic, nightmarish and richly satirical, Adler’s earliest novel probes the vacuity of intellectual pretentiousness, the absurdity of bureaucracy, the insatiability of ego, and the means and meaning of survival. Afterword, introduction, translator’s note.
Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English at the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.