Jill's Reviews > The Sleepwalkers

The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman
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's review
Jan 26, 2012

really liked it

This book, set in late 1932 Weimar Germany, is one scary book. One reason I like dystopias so much is that the horrible people in them are just pretend. But the Nazis who came to power in early 1933 were not pretend, and they committed atrocious crimes. And this close-up look at Berlin just as the brownshirts were taking it over is frightening both for what is described and for what you know will be coming later.

Inspektor-Detektiv Willi Kraus, 35, is a respected Berlin homicide cop who received the Iron Cross for his heroism in World War I, and additionally is a local hero for solving a child-killer crime not long ago. His wife Vicki died two years earlier in a freak accident, and her sister now raises his two young sons, Stefan and Erich.

Now Kraus has two new cases. Washed up in the river on the west side of Berlin near Spandau, the body of a woman has been found with mutilated legs – her fibulae have been surgically removed and replanted in the opposite direction. Kraus also is charged with finding a missing Bulgarian princess. While missing persons are not within his ordinary purview, this situation could cause a diplomatic crisis. Both cases turn out to be connected, however. In fact, a number of women have gone missing over the past nine months, all of whom were thought to be under a hypnotic trance when they abruptly left their homes and took the train out to Spandau, from which they never returned.

What Kraus discovers is a horrific preview of barbarity to come. And yet he, like so many other Jews at that time, still thinks that reason will prevail, and resists the idea of leaving Germany. But increasingly, his ability to do his job is stymied by anti-Semitism. As more and more non-Jews are hypnotized by facism, more and more Jews sleepwalk to their deaths. At the end of the book, you find yourself racing through to see if Kraus will escape in time.

Discussion: For me, there were some problems with the book. The intermittent insertion of German phrases is bizarre – the characters presumably all speak German, not English. It just didn’t make sense. The tropes of hypnotism and sleepwalking are clever but at the same time too obviously trying to convey a message about pre-War Germany. And while I accept that the author messed around with the dates of some historical events for plot reasons (which he explains in the afterward), the addition of dialogue from some of the many historical figures of the era just felt like unnecessary “name-dropping.”

Evaluation: This is a definite page-turner with an interesting premise – a Jewish cop trying to solve a crime in the early days of the Nazis. There is an eclectic, interesting cast of characters, and by the end, you can’t put it down until you know what will happen.

Rating: 3.5/5
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