Harry Mulisch Siegfried (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 2001)
Harry Mulisch Siegfried, translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent (New York: Viking, 2003)
For more than a third of Harry Mulisch’s 2001 fiction Siegfried the reader is immersed in the terrifying confessions of an elderly Austrian couple. The narrator of most of this fiction, Rudolf Herter—a world-renowned Dutch novelist—has been invited to Vienna to lecture and read from his work. During a radio interview granted the day before the lecture, Herter is sidetracked in his discussions to consider the issue of fiction as representation as opposed to historical representation, which, in turn, leads him to the conclusion that perhaps the only way to get at the nature of a hateful figure such as Hitler is to “capture” him in fiction.
So far in this fiction readers have perhaps willingly followed along with a story that the narrator-author—seemingly inseparable from Mulisch himself—has predicted: a fiction revealing “highly fantastic but not impossible fact and mov[ing] from mental reality into social reality.” The shift to the more wildly conjectured “coincidences” of historical and philosophical facts, however, radically alters the direction of Mulisch’s fiction. Even if one were to accept the Falks’ shocking revelations as “fictional fact,” it is more difficult to respond to the tenuously posited linkings and associations of the narrator’s mind. In a sense, the reader has the feeling that not only, perhaps, has the character become somewhat mentally unhinged, but—since it is difficult to separate him from the author—the author has also begun to lose control of his narrative, spewing out somewhat irrational ideas that have long been held within. Given the normal precision of Mulisch’s writing, one reads Herter’s disjunctive associations with some sense of embarrassment. What are we to make of these rambling connections of fiction and fact?
“An eighth!” he shouted contemptuously. “An eighth!
Birdbrain! Why don’t you read a book occasionally in-
stead of just fashion magazines? Then you would know that
every generation throws up a full Jew according to Mendel’s
Hitler marries Eva primarily to placate her, to compensate, so to speak, for her loss.
Strangely, this impossible narrative told from the viewpoint of a woman who loved this monster even after he destroyed her own flesh and blood, makes Hitler all the more human, portrays him as a monstrous bigot, perhaps, but still as a man who, believing in principles, is betrayed by the faith he has put in those he has gathered near him. In a sense, Eva’s fictional diary disputes the metaphysical posturing of Herter’s recent diatribe.
Los Angeles, July 10, 2003