The Final Solu­tion: A Sto­ry of Detection

  • Review
By – October 26, 2011

Linus Stein­man, a nine-year-old Jew­ish boy who escaped from Nazi Ger­many, wan­ders along rail­road tracks in the Eng­lish coun­try­side with a par­rot on his shoul­der. A fee­ble old man, once a famous detec­tive and now an eccen­tric bee­keep­er, becomes intrigued by the pair, for the boy is mute, while his bird emits a mys­te­ri­ous string of Ger­man num­bers. Per­haps the num­bers are an SS mil­i­tary code; per­haps they will lead to Swiss bank accounts. When a neigh­bor is mur­dered and the par­rot goes miss­ing, the old man comes out of retire­ment to help solve the crime.

The novel­la, as the title implies, is dark­ened by the shad­ow of the Holo­caust. Linus’s strange silence and mys­te­ri­ous behav­ior sug­gest pro­found trau­ma, a depth of tragedy that is out­side our com­pre­hen­sion, beyond human lan­guage. For the old man, the mys­tery becomes a vehi­cle for intense ret­ro­spec­tion and self-scruti­ny. A num­ber of mem­o­rable char­ac­ters are inter­est­ed in solv­ing the crime; they obsess about the sig­nif­i­cance of num­bers, pon­der the mys­ter­ies of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but most impor­tant­ly yearn to make sense of the wartime wreck­age of their lives. Six styl­ized illus­tra­tions by Jay Ryan punc­tu­ate the nar­ra­tive, remind­ing us of Chabon’s endur­ing inter­est in comics, and show­ing that this book, like Sum­mer­land, is aimed at both ado­les­cents and adults. The text insists on the old man’s astound­ing detec­tive work, but unfor­tu­nate­ly the rudi­men­ta­ry mys­tery plot nev­er gives us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see his bril­liance. We are, though, wit­ness to the lyri­cal pow­er and beau­ty of Chabon’s often daz­zling prose.

Aaron Ritzen­berg is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in the Depart­ment of Eng­lish and Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture at Bran­deis University.

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