From Publishers Weekly
Inspired by a little known fact about WWII, Williams (Captain Blackman) creates a chillingly lifelike account of the treatment of black people by the Nazis. In the parlance of the time, Williams's protagonist refers to himself as a gay Negro; he's a jazz pianist in 1930s Berlin who runs afoul of the ascendant Nazis and is imprisoned for 12 years in Dachau. "My name's Clifford Pepperidge and I am in trouble," the narrator announces on May 28, 1933, in the first page of his diary, which ends inconclusively on April 28, 1945, as the Americans liberate Dachau. Clifford's journal is framed by letters dated 1986 that trace how the diary was passed along and eventually published. Embroiled in a sexual scandal with a wealthy American embassy attache, the New Orleans-born Clifford is effectively stripped of his identity and accused of "immorality to the state." At Dachau, he encounters SS officer Dieter Lange, who once haunted the same jazz and gay clubs as Clifford, and now becomes his protector and lover, using him as a "calfactor" or houseboy, and gaining prominence among the other SS for throwing parties at which Clifford plays the piano. The diary is filled with harrowingly authentic details about the workings of the camp: the ranking among the prisoners by colored triangles, the bargaining for food and sex, the brutality of the guards and increasingly horrific conditions. While Clifford's own situation is relatively privileged , he often compares the treatment of the other prisoners he observes to slavery in America. Williams's ear for black dialect?especially musical references?is superb and his knowledge of jazz impressive. Where the early entries lag with the long overture toward war, the later ones increase in tension as Hitler's aggression unravels. Clifford emerges as a naif, often willfully ignorant but never cruel; his diary, though fictional, is an eloquent testimony to the largely unknown sufferings of blacks?not only African-Americans but "colored men" from all countries?who were incarcerated in WWII concentration camps.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A first novel by journalist Williams (If I Stop Ill Die: The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor, 1991), portraying the travails of a black musician imprisoned in Dachau. Prison camps have hardly been places, conventionally, to catch up with ones diary. Here, though, the solitude, boredom, and seemingly endless stretches of they time serve to make our central character quite introspective indeed, even though this person is the gregarious and feckless as Clifford Pepperidge. A gay pianist from New Orleans, Cliff made the scene in Harlem in the 1920s, playing alongside the likes of Ellington, Ma Rainey, and Miss Bessie Smith. When a Russian impresario decides to take a jazz band on tour through Europe, Cliff jumps on board and eventually winds up in Berlin, where he becomes one of the stars of the cabaret years of Weimar. Arrested during one of the Gestapos periodic roundups of gays, Cliff is taken (in spite of his US citizenship) into Protective Custody and sent to Dachau. Upon arrival, hes recognized by Dieter Lange, a gay SS officer with a secret passion for jazz who used to frequent Cliffs nightclubs. Dieter makes Cliff his calfactor (houseboy) and gets him special treatment in exchange for sex and music (all the other Nazis apparently love jazz as much as Dieter, and Cliff helps Dieter win favor with the brass by playing at parties for them). And since Dieters young wife Anna is (not surprisingly) far from satisfied by her husband, it soon becomes part of Cliffs duties to take care of her as well. How much degradation is enough for a man? Cliff has no illusions: Good men who are strong dont last here. But if you want to make it, you can put up with just about anythingand Cliffs diary shows how he does just that. A worthwhile variation on a grim and lamentably familiar story. The tone veers toward the disconcertingly light, but, even so, things remain a long way from Hogans Heroes. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.