Greg's Reviews > Death of a Man: A Novel

Death of a Man by Kay Boyle
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Jun 19, 2011

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bookshelves: fiction, new-directions, girls-girls-girls
Read from June 19 to 21, 2011

Maybe it's the sunshine and the summer (not likely though) but I just couldn't muster up a lot of interest in Death of a Man. I'm normally all about a novel that questions why people supported the rise of Hitler. Normally the question of how normal, 'good' people were so erroneously mislead (or dazzled) gets my old brain churning but this time, nothing. No substantial thoughts.

I think the 'death' in the title is the death of the main characters freedom because of his alignment with the rising Nazi's in Austria. I think we were supposed to think how tragic he is, because he's this good doctor who brings toys to sick children and believes that by supporting the clandestine Nazi party he is helping to further the cause of freedom in his country. Freedom is a bullshit word though, and I think it's a knee-jerk leftist reaction to see this character as a tragic figure. He does believe in freedom, and the freedom he sees is the freedom being offered in the spewing rhetoric of Hitler. Just take a listen to Conservative talk-radio and half of what Limbaugh and Co. rant and rave about is Obama taking away our freedom, and how they represent the freedom lovers who want governments hands off, unless it would be to legislate something like a woman's choice to end a pregnancy, same-sex marriage, or the legality of warrant-less invasions of privacy or a host of other unfreedoms that the right champions for. And the same can be said for the left. Those windbags on the AM dial have a point, there are freedoms that the liberals would like to take away from people, it is just different freedoms than the conservatives would like to legislate.

But using the word freedom is a densely packed tangle that essentially means nothing except to the partisans of which ever party is speaking.

The writing in this book is kind of breezy and that is good for capturing the landscape of the high-altitude Austrian mountains but I don't think it worked in creating the proper sense that this book needed to really work. An early reviewer of the book called it a "Nazi Idyll", and other critics have taken shots at the book as being pro-Nazi, or crypto-fascist or whatever, and in a way they have a point. It's not that Boyle creates too sympathetic of a character in the at Nazi doctor, it's that her writing achieves the tone of rugged outdoorsy purity that the Nazi's used in their mythos and propaganda. Her scenes felt like they could have been out-takes from some of the early parts of Triumph of the Will. I'm thinking that some of the critical lobs and Adorno and Horkheimer threw at Hamsun's novels could also be shot towards this book (with the big difference that Hamsun was an avowed member of the Hitler Fan Club and drooled all over the thought of anything Adolf, Boyle wasn't a fascist and as far as I know she is planted firmly on the left).

Breezy and inevitably probably unmemorable.
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Greg I think so, I feel wrong about saying that it's already been done before because this might have been one of the first novels to tackle the subject.


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