The Detour

Soho Press  2012

Andromeda Romano-Lax’s second novel is narrated by Ernst Vogler, a mid-level Third Reich drone working in the Sonderprojekt department in 1938 Germany. The department was created because Hitler, whom they refer to as Der Kunstsammler (The Collector) was obsessed with acquiring desirable art objects from all over the world, that reflected German values.

Ernst is sent on what he thinks is a straight-forward courier mission to Italy to bring home the ancient Greco-Roman statue

The Discus Thrower. Two young Italian men, Enzo and Cosimo, are hired to be Ernst’s escorts on the journey. The men have three days to deliver the statue to the German border, and Ernst can’t bear to think what will happen if he is late.

But things aren’t as simple as they sound. Soon, Ernst comes to realize that he is embroiled in something much larger  and more dangerous than the stated mission. While he frantically tries to meet his deadline, Enzo decides to take a detour to propose to his girlfriend in the Italian countryside. That decision will have dire consequences and alter all of their lives.

The book starts off slowly but gains momentum as Ernst’s story is gradually revealed. Romano-Lax creates an atmosphere of slow-building suspense, and her skill as a writer is irrefutable.

Part romance and part mystery, this piece of historical fiction sheds light on an infrequently explored aspect of the Third Reich.

Discussion Questions

from the author's website

1. Ernst Vogler takes solace in the image of the Discus Thrower. Is there an object or image in which you’ve taken solace? Are there times when reverence for an object or image has misled a person or people?

2. “For beauty, you cannot prepare,” claims Enzo. Ernst Vogler, by contrast, thinks that beauty (and specifically, art) requires intellectual preparation. Who is right, or are they each right in different situations?

3. Is there a particular work of art in any form (including music, architecture, or film) that has captivated you, and why? What does it say about you personally that this particular work so enthralls you?

4. What makes Vogler a poor candidate for this mission, and what, in his mind or objectively, makes him an ideal candidate?

5. Vogler’s mentor, Gerhard, feels that his young protégée needs a trip to Italy. Why is this so? Do you agree? What are your thoughts on the power—or limitations—of a short-term experience to change us? Have you ever taken a trip that radically changed your outlook on life?

6. Is Vogler overreacting when he is anxious about his own personal mark of “difference”? Why or why not?

7. Various German artists—including a preeminent conductor and a world-famous filmmaker—were essentially forgiven for working in high positions or in close collaboration with the Third Reich. What is your opinion on the choices they made and the post-war attitudes toward artists like them?

8. To what extent do we hold people accountable today for working in or for unethical companies, organizations, or governments? To what extent are they innocent? To what extent are they culpable?

9. Various governments have tried to gain or keep control of artistic and archaeological objects and artifacts over the centuries, and have used these symbols in propaganda efforts. Can you think of examples, and why do these objects matter so much? 
10. Hitler was a failed artist. Churchill was a successful one. Mussolini played violin every day. Is art as important in the lives of today’s leaders or opinion-makers? If not, has something else taken its place?

11. There are multiple father figures in the novel. Discuss their relevance and their positive or negative impacts on Vogler. Do you think this has particular relevance to Germany at this time in history? 

12. If Vogler’s trip to Italy is meant to shake him from his blinkered approach to life, or his ethical paralysis, does it? What people or events are most significant in changing his attitudes or behaviors? 

13. Both the ancient Greeks and the Third Reich held the “perfect” body in great esteem. What are your thoughts on this? 

14. How are Ernst and Rosina similar, and how are they different? What are their chances for happiness, and do they—does anyone—“deserve” it? What life do you envision for them, beyond the final chapters of this book?

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