In September 1931, a 23-year-old woman was found dead in the Munich flat owned by Adolf Hitler, an unfinished letter on her desk and his handgun on the floor beside her. She was Geli Raubal, the daughter of Hitler's widowed half-sister, and, as Hitler later melodramatically claimed, the only woman he ever loved.
Although he had known of Geli since her birth, he was aloof from his Austrian family during his first years as head of the struggling Nazi Party. But in 1927, six years before he became chancellor, Hitler invited his half-sister to become housekeeper of his alpine home in Obersalzberg and to bring along her daughter, offering to pay for Geli's medical studies at the university in Munich. Seeing his niece on a daily basis, he soon fell jealously in love, for Geli was, as Hitler's friends later said, "an enchantress," pretty, fun-loving, witty, flirtatious, and able, as no one else was, to put her strange, high-strung uncle at ease.
In a carefully researched historical novel that is haunting, unflinching, shocking, profound, and as compulsively readable as a psychological thriller, Ron Hansen presents Adolf Hitler as he has never before been seen in fiction, but as his intimates must have seen him. And through the eyes of a favorite niece who has been all but lost to history, we see the frightening rise in prestige and political power of a vain, vulgar, sinister man who thrived on hate and cruelty and would stop at nothing to keep the horror of his inner life hidden from the world.
Hitler's Niece is a masterpiece, a luminous, suspenseful, beautifully crafted novel, full of passion, events, and insight, that reinforces Ron Hansen's growing reputation as one of our foremost writers of fiction.
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Hitler's Niece offers the unforgettable spectacle of a tyrant in love: kneeling, shouting, groveling, sputtering with rage, posing naked for his lover with fists clenched and stomach sucked in--and that's leaving out the dog whip and jackboots. The unfortunate victim of these attentions is Angelika Raubal, daughter of Hitler's half-sister, and the only one in his circle who dares to stand up to him. "What a good game: Who's not frightened of Adolf Hitler?" Geli's friend Henny playfully asks. No one, as it turns out, but Geli--the one who should be most afraid.
Ron Hansen's tale begins with the most gemütlichkeit family gathering imaginable: a Sunday-afternoon party celebrating the infant Geli's baptism, with a pale, peevish, and hungry young Adolph as one of the guests. Geli's father Leo teases the would-be painter ("Rembrandt's only rival!"), the Monsignor needles him about his ancestry, and finally Hitler leaves in a huff. This is, truly, a new view of der führer--the 20th century's greatest villain as the embarrassing relative you don't want to talk to at reunions. By the time Geli has reached her teens, however, the tables have turned. Her father is dead, her mother is an impoverished widow, and Hitler has begun his meteoric rise to power. Geli herself is no intellectual, much less interested in politics, but she's a fun-loving, good-looking girl who captivates the Nazi inner circle even though she speaks her mind more often than she should. At first, her uncle seems like a savior, sending Geli off to university and showering gifts on his "Princess." As the infatuation deepens, however, Hitler's grip tightens, until what began with a family party ends 23 years later with a gunshot.
The basic outlines of this story are true--or at least rumored to be true--and although Geli's 1931 death was officially ruled a suicide, Hansen describes a quite plausible version of events. But the real enigma here is not who killed Geli Raubal; it is Hitler himself. How did he manage to seduce her? How did he manage to seduce an entire people? In a way, Ron Hansen's novels are all mysteries: solving the murder of a prodigal son, as in Atticus, or approaching the miracle of faith, as in Mariette in Ecstasy. He is preoccupied with the big questions, and in Hitler's Niece, that big question is none other than evil.
In this case, evil wears an ordinary human face. The novel's Hitler, much like the real one, is lazy, vain, jealous, and cowardly. In his relations with other people, "he shoots for love, but the arrow falls, and he only hits sentimentality," as his sister puts it. His looks are far from impressive; until Geli sees him speak in public, he seems "wary, officious, and ordinary, like a concierge in a hotel that had fallen on hard times." But what Hitler has is the most powerful seduction tool of all: the ability to inspire fear. By the time his niece has learned to fear rather than to pity him, it is too late--for her, and for the German people. In this heartbreaking portrait of aggression and complacency, Hansen has created a Hitler all the more frightening for how much he looks like us. --Mary ParkAbout the Author:
Ron Hansen is the bestselling author of the novel Atticus (a finalist for the National Book Award), Hitler's Niece, Mariette in Ecstasy, Desperadoes, and Isn't It Romantic?, as well as a collection of short stories, a collection of essays, and a book for children. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Ron Hansen lives in northern California, where he teaches at Santa Clara University.
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