“Wolf: A Novel” by Herbert J. Stern, Alan A. Winter

Gene: Historical FictionWolf
Publisher: Skyhorse
Pub. Date: Feb. 11, 2020

The Director of Publicity for “Wolf: A Novel” contacted me to ask if I would be interested in an Advance Review Copy (ARC) of this historical fiction. I was about to say thanks but no thanks (already have too many on my TBR list) until I learned who the authors were—more to come on them later. I am so glad that I accepted the book and grateful that it was offered to me.  Wolf is a meticulously researched historical novel about a man who isn’t yet the monster that he will become later in life, a man who is the embodiment of evil known as Adolf Hitler.  I was amazed at how much I learned about Hitler in this book.  Did you know that Wolf was his nickname?  Did you know that in 1918 he was in a soldiers’ mental health hospital for hysterical blindness?  Or that as a corporal Hitler was denied a promotion for lack of leadership ability?  And most surprisingly, this most hated man was also known s to be a ladies’ man?  I kid you not. Throughout his career, he paid off women to squash the potential sex scandals.

“Wolf” is the story of Hitler’s life immediately following WWI. If you ever wondered how the Nazis took control, you won’t after reading this book.  They did not seize the country.  It was a slow political movement made possible due to all the fighting amongst the country’s political parties striving to obtain power. I was so fascinated by this systematic explanation, like chess pieces on a board, that I actually typed it all up.  Then remembered I was writing a book review, not a history paper.  The authors make it look easy to weave together fact and fiction. In between reading about the rise of real-life monsters such as Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, and Reinhard Heydrich, there is also the book’s fictional protagonist and narrator, Friedrich Richard. Through this character, you will find yourself in nightclubs with movie stars as well as prostitutes in brothels. Moreover, you get a front row seat to Germany’s then-bohemian life style.  All sorts of unconventional shenanigans became acceptable.  Think the 1970s movie “Cabaret.”

The book’s co-authors are Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter. Stern is a former US attorney for the District of New Jersey.  He also served as a judge of the US Court of Berlin. He authored the non-fiction book, “Judgment in Berlin.”  Winter graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in History and has graduate degrees from New York University and Colombia University. He is the author of four novels. One was a “Kirkus Selected Best Book.”  The newsletter “The Jewish Voice,” wrote that this novel “debunks the myths surrounding the life of Adolf Hitler.”  One learns that he was capable of loving and maintaining friendships. I know, very hard to believe but it’s footnoted.   Friedrich meets Hitler when they are in the same hospital in 1918.  He is there because he is suffering from a war-related brain injury that left him with impaired memory. They become good friends.  I thought it was ingenious how the authors created a protagonist with amnesia.  As they say in the endnotes, “He is a clear window through which we observed people and events.”

Though the narrator’s eyes the plot simply hits me in my American gut.  One of the many examples is when Hitler began his sterilization programs in an attempt to prevent persons deemed to possess undesirable heritable characteristics. Friedrich questions the reasoning behind needing an Aryan race.  It is explained to him that they took the idea from America’s broadly accepted law that “One-Drop” of black blood in a white person is enough to consider that person to be black.  “They enforce purity and superiority of Anglo-Saxon blood. Their goal is to protect the integrity of anything that threatens American heritage.” Because our protagonist’s memory is a blank slate, it suddenly seems understandable to him.  Another heartbreaking example is when reading that in the early years of the Nazi party, the wealthy Jews donated to Hitler. They considered themselves loyal Germans who wanted the best for their country. Again, since Friedrich has no past knowledge, he naively agrees with them.

Historical fiction is my favorite genre, so I read many. A complaint I have is that it has become a trend to compare German Fascism to the current White House Administration. They are usually written so loud that it gives me a headache and bores me to tears. “Wolf” is over 500 pages long.  The chapters are divided by months and years in chronological order.  By the time you finish the novel, the comparison becomes inevitable, but you need to piece them together over the years.  It is not spoon-fed to you.  Now, I am not saying that President Trump is Hitler-like.  I am saying that the book helps one understand the comparisons.  Germany had a perfect political storm that allowed evil to flourish.

The book’s last paragraphs take place in1934.  The German President Hindenburg dies. “The next morning a law was passed that combined the offices of president and chancellor.” Hitler fools the Germans into believing that this is out of respect for the deceased President. In reality, dictatorship is his goal.  Then Hitler calls for his Generals to swear before God their unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer of the Reich. “These few words—and what they represented—sealed the fate of Germany.”  Before Hitler, “the armed forces swore their allegiance to protect the country.”  “Wolf” only has six fictional characters, including the protagonist. The rest is pure history. Yet, the tale reads like a page-turning thriller. I do wish that the authors had explained in more detail why a dark haired Austrian man was so intent on creating a blond-haired, blue-eyed German nation (something about his troubled childhood); Still, I just gobbled this one up.  This educational read is easy to follow. Although it is an adult historical fiction, young adults would learn much while getting lost in the tale’s drama. If “Wolf” ever shows up on a syllabus in a high school history class, I would be surprised if kids cut the class.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review
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5 thoughts on ““Wolf: A Novel” by Herbert J. Stern, Alan A. Winter

  1. What an absolutely fascinating review! I took a class back in the day that I subtitled “why did Hitler do what he did” so I don’t think I would read this book. However, I very much enjoyed reading yer viewpoints on it. Arrrr!
    x The Captain

    Liked by 1 person

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