From Publishers Weekly
A promising premise flatlines in Hattermer-Higgins's overwrought debut. Margaret Taub, a young American woman awakens in a forest outside Berlin in September of 2002 with a several-month-long blank spot in her memory. Two years later, after a letter, addressed to a "Margaret Täubner," arrives at her apartment, confirming an upcoming appointment with a doctor Margaret has never heard of, she meets the doctor, a gynecologist, who treats Margaret with uncomfortable familiarity and insists on serving as her "memory surgeon." The next morning, Berlin has "transformed into flesh," and, as Margaret negotiates the menacingly alive city, she is plagued by a mysterious feeling of guilt, all the while becoming increasingly obsessed with Magda Goebbels, the wife of Hitler's propaganda minister, and the possibly parallel story of Regina Strauss, a Jewish woman who committed suicide along with her husband and children. It doesn't take long for this novel to come undone, its magical realism and overly precious tone mixing uneasily with its ponderous claims about ethics and memory. Also problematic are the final revelations about Margaret's past, which are intended to be shocking and enlightening, but are instead burdened with insistence on meaning. (Jan.) (c)
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*Starred Review* The Holocaust is a dark star, forever pulling new writers into its orbit. First-time novelist Hattemer-Higgins dramatizes with phantasmagoric magnitude the crisis of conscience following the genocide, drawing on her experience working in Berlin as a walking-tour guide, a role she assigns to her protagonist. An American with a German father, Margaret Taub has survived a mysterious trauma that has erased her memory of recent months and left her afflicted with nightmarish visions. As she ushers tourists to Nazi sites, the city turns to flesh before her eyes, and Nazi Madga Goebbels, who murdered her children as military defeat loomed, stalks her in the form of a bird of prey. Margaret is also visited by the ghost of a Jewish woman who committed suicide after killing her children to save them from Nazi torture. Determined to regain her past, Margaret contends with a blind, knife-throwing “memory surgeon” and a spying neighbor. She knows she’s guilty, but of what? With unbridled imagination and exquisite command, Hattemer-Higgins explodes the concept of remembrance and confronts the “spiritual aftershock” of the Holocaust in a gloriously hellish and fiercely surreal dreamscape with echoes of fairy tales, Heinrich von Kleist, and Hermann Hesse, to create a bewitching and unnerving novel stunning in its artistry, audacity, and insight. --Donna Seaman