The Bavarian provinces in the mid-thirties. People pray to the Holy Mary and venerate the Führer side by side – a combination that appeared perfectly normal to the narrator as a child. Like Josef Bierbichler’s Mittelreich or Peter Kurzeck’s Sommer, der bleibt, Viktor Niedermayer’s new novel succeeds brilliantly in putting a fresh spin on the theme of childhood in wartime Germany.
When he sees Hitler’s portrait hanging opposite the image of the Madonna in his parents’ bedroom, the young protagonist realises that there are changes in the wind. But here in Finsterland, a rural backwater between Passau and Regensburg, the Fuehrer’s portrait seems like a natural addendum: in the world outside, the ecclesiastical processions march alongside the brownshirts. It is not until long after the outbreak of war that things actually start becoming uncomfortable for the boy: initially conscripted to serve in a military hospital, he is then transferred to a remote Alpine outpost, standing guard against the partisans until the Americans eventually occupy his hometown. Throughout, the boy remains strangely aloof – an onlooker and radically subjective chronicler in a time of upheaval, passive by nature, albeit coerced into action. In his perception, everything is at once completely comprehensible and extremely frightening.