From Publishers Weekly
Based on the lives of Adam von Trott and Isaiah Berlin, Cartwright's unsttling 12th novel follows Axel von Gottberg, a German, and his friend Elya Mendel, a British Jew, both Rhodes scholars at idyllic 1930s Oxford. Gottberg returns to Germany in 1934, ostensibly to rally opposition to Hitler, but Mendel publicly denounces him as a Nazi. Sixty years after Gottberg was executed for his role in the failed German coup of 1944, a dying Mendel entrusts his papers to a former student, Conrad Senior, and bids him to discover whether he had unjustly condemned his late friend. Senior, an insouciant writer whose life is a shambles, is transfixed by Gottberg, a man of courage and action, a womanizer with an operatic flair and a love for Hegel. Cartwright's treatment of the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler's life in 1944 is gripping. Conrad fails to see what an ambiguous figure Gottberg was—diffident about the fate of the Jews and finally concerned less about his country than his own achievements. The prose can be surprisingly hackneyed, while the characters rarely rise above caricature. It is difficult to discern whether the novel's sophistry, soap opera dialogue and lionizing of the ineffective German resistance are ironic. (July)
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*Starred Review* In July 1944, a serious attempt was made on Adolf Hitler's life. That actual event serves as the basis for a darkly effective fictionalized depiction of one man's participation in the conspiracy, by a prizewinning South African-born novelist. The group members who attempted to take the fuhrer's life were tried and executed in a horrible fashion, among them a young Prussian count, called here Axel von Gottberg, who had been educated at Oxford in the 1930s and there became the close friend of Elya Mendel, an English Jew who eventually became a distinguished professor. In the present day, Mendel has left his collection of letters from Axel to a student, Conrad Senior, whose charge is to organize the papers. Consequently, he is faced with sorting out the dimensions of their relationship. The count caused a rift between himself and Mendel when he returned to Germany in 1934 and published a letter in an English newspaper that made him appear to be a Nazi sympathizer. The twin themes upon which this novel is constructed--personal betrayal and vicarious living (Senior finds himself "living more fully" through Mendel's and the count's lives)--greatly entice readers' interest on political, historical, and intellectual levels. Brad HooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved