Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Mercy Room - Giles Rozier

I'm not great with books with unknown or vague narrators - I know, perhaps, that they let the reader's imagination work a little harder, or they stretch one's perceptions and assumptions. But, I think I just need a more concrete story sometimes. I do, however, tend to like books that take place around World War II, as this one does. The basic story is that the narrator is a German teacher living in occupied France during the war. The Nazis recuit this person(whose gender is never identified)to translate documents for them. As the person watches as known acquaintances are marched to their certain death, s/he makes the dangerous decision to hide a Jewish soldier in her home. An illicit love-affair ensues. While the teacher is quite the intellectual, often losing her/himself in the beauty of great literature, s/he is not, as one would expect, very reflective when it comes to the circumstances of her life and those around her. In many ways I found the narrator too dismissive of surrounding horrors - but perhaps this was a survivial mechanism. The gender ambiguity also lends an interesting angle to this novel, which can be read in vastly different ways depending on if the narrator is seen as a woman or a man. I did feel more compelled to see the narrator as a woman given a description of his/her first marriage early in the book, but perhaps this is just a result of sterotypes in my head. Whatever the case, this is an interesting and different little read - not a bad way to pass the afternoon

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