Lisa Louie's Reviews > Young Adolf

Young Adolf by Beryl Bainbridge
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Dec 04, 10

Read in September, 2010

Young Adolf was another book that I read for the Vibes & Scribes book club, and frankly, I struggled to work my way through it. Apparently, this book was Bainbridge's first historical novel, and according to her own remarks, she intended the book to be an homage of sorts to her native Liverpool. If this was the case, her anti-hero protagonist overshadows and renders irrelevant the setting. He is the young Adolf Hitler who, beset by paranoid delusions that he is being pursued, comes to stay with his older brother in Liverpool. Lazy, arrogant, and shiftless, Adolf imagines himself a frustrated, misunderstood artist who is oppressed by all kinds of pollutants, inferior minds and sensibilities among them. As such, Adolf is a pathetic character although, because we know he will become Adolf Hitler, this portrayal is a dramatically ironic one, and the one on which the novel's so-called “comedy” turns. We are treated to various atmospheres as Adolf loafs his way around Liverpool. Were he not to become Hitler, his uselessness almost earns him our sympathy. Nothing much happens to him until at the very end, his main delusion, a bearded man, catches up to him, dressed as a woman behind a stage, and we're still not sure if Adolf is interacting with reality or not. At that point, we really don't care.

The book group, including myself, universally slated this book. Even its surrealistic pretensions could not salvage it from the moral complexities that arise from Bainbridge's controversial choice of protagonist. As a work of art, the novel's central irony would not work if its protagonist was someone other than Adolf Hitler. As social and historical artifact, the novel has a questionable moral value given that it is a fictional work about a man who was the main architect of the greatest act of genocide in human history. In my estimation, it failed on both counts.

I don't recommend this book. If you want to learn more about the young Adolf, look him up on Wikipedia.
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