The Edu­ca­tion of Arnold Hitler

Marc Estrin
  • Review
By – May 25, 2012
Estrin’s nov­el is an unusu­al­ly rich work of fic­tion, designed for the com­mon read­er and the con­nois­seur alike. It depicts the growth and devel­op­ment of a part­ly Jew­ish boy (his mater­nal grand­fa­ther was Jew­ish) born on Decem­ber 25 and deter­mined to retain his trou­ble­some fam­i­ly name: Hitler. The nov­el is a bil­dungsro­man; an extend­ed trea­tise on names and nam­ing as a high con­cept; a com­pendi­um of ide­o­log­i­cal dis­cus­sions (the legal prin­ci­ple of sep­a­rate but equal,” fem­i­nist doc­trine, an inquiry into the social real­i­ties of lan­guage, etc.); a gath­er­ing of rel­e­vant lit­er­ary ref­er­ences (Her­man Melville’s Bil­ly Budd, John Howard Griffin’s mem­oir, Black Like Me, The Great Chain of Being,” I. L. Peretz’s Bontche Shweig); and a body of Jew­ish lore and con­cerns (“Who is a Jew?” gema­tria, a point­ed com­par­i­son of Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty, becom­ing Jew­ish with­out being cho­sen and with­out the woe­ful, painful Jew­ish his­to­ry). Estrin’s real­is­tic pic­ture of small­town Bible Belt Texas life con­trasts with his oth­er pic­ture of the fren­zied New York life of art, music, and sophis­ti­cat­ed sex­u­al pair­ings. There are many oth­er fas­ci­nat­ing aspects about Arnold’s life. Near­ing the end of this book, the read­er won­ders: will Arnold over­come the onus of his fam­i­ly name, find true love at last and come up with a way to live with his Jew­ish­ness? Estrin final­ly resolves those tricky issues.
Samuel I. Bell­man is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Cal­i­for­nia State Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty of Pomona. He has been writ­ing on Jew­ish Amer­i­can writ­ers since 1959.

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