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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 Park
Wish I would not have wasted my time on this book. it wasn't what I expected.Published 1 month ago by Rita
This has to be one of the most poorly written novels I've ever come across -- if I were able to give it no stars, I would. Read morePublished 2 months ago by nan k
This is a NOVEL, a work of fiction. However, Ron Hansen has done a great deal of research for his fascinating work. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Musicals Freak
I feel my review will be a lone dissenting voice here. I did enjoy the novel. It was well paced and well written and Geli comes off as a bright, humorous, intelligent, attractive... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Miss Hater
A good book written in an intentionally simple prose style, almost as if meant to elicit a factual reportage. Read morePublished 13 months ago by VideoDemon
The ever versitle Ron Hansen strikes again. One change of pace after another from his 'Mariette in Ectasy' to 'Isn't it Romantic,' the first a study religious devotion in a turn... Read morePublished 14 months ago by Dr. M. W. Jackson
While fiction according to the author, he has an interesting take on the relationship between Hitler and his niece, and is probably fairly close to the truth of the whole affair.Published 19 months ago by James J Reinkober
On Hitler's Niece and writing historical fiction
If you want to know about Hitler's life, then read Ian Kershaw's Hitler: A Biography (W. W. Norton & Company, 2010). Read more