The Sec­ond Son

  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
The final book in Jonathan Rabb’s Berlin Tril­o­gy, The Sec­ond Son depicts a devot­ed father’s quest to find his miss­ing son at a remark­able moment in his­to­ry: the eve of Germany’s 1936 Olympics and the out­set of the Span­ish Civ­il War. Niko­lai Hoffn­er, a wid­ow­er and for­mer high-rank­ing mem­ber of the Ger­man police, sets off for Barcelona in hopes of reunit­ing his son, Georg, with Georg’s wife and young son. Hoffn­er was recent­ly stripped of his post as Chief Inspec­tor when it was dis­cov­ered that he was half-Jew­ish. Iron­i­cal­ly, though, Hoffner’s oth­er son, Sascha, has already joined the Nazi par­ty despite his Jew­ish her­itage and despite the hor­rors of the Nazi regime. Hoff — ner’s jour­ney, then, is both a bat­tle to get his son back, and also a metaphor­i­cal con­fronta­tion against all of the tyran­ny and ter­ror about to boil over. Hoffner’s search takes him along the anar­chic yet still some­what roman­tic Span­ish coun­try­side, replete with col­or­ful char­ac­ters who pos­sess vary­ing degrees of moral­i­ty.

A hybrid of war fic­tion and detec­tive sto­ry, Rabb presents each his­tor­i­cal detail with accu­ra­cy and vivid­ness. Our pro­tag­o­nist, Hoffn­er, is easy to root for, even if you’re new to the series. His increas­ing­ly des­per­ate strug­gle unfolds with all of the ten­sion, dark­ness, and emo­tion that a tale of this mag­ni­tude deserves. 
Phil Sandick is a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son. He has taught cours­es in lit­er­a­ture, com­po­si­tion, and cre­ative writ­ing since 2006. Phil is cur­rent­ly study­ing rhetoric and com­po­si­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na-Chapel Hill.

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