Monday, June 27, 2016

"The Kaminsky Cure" by Christopher New

The Kaminsky Cure
by Christopher New

The Kaminsky Cure by Christopher New is currently on tour with Enchanted Book Promotions. The tour stops here today for my review and an excerpt. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

New York Times bestselling author Christopher New’s harrowing portrait of a half-Aryan/half-Jewish family trying to survive the Nazi regime in wartime Austria.
The Kaminsky Cure is a poignant yet comedic novel of a half Jewish/half Christian family caught up in the machinery of Hitler’s final solution. The matriarch, Gabi, was born Jewish but converted to Christianity in her teens. The patriarch, Willibald, is a Lutheran minister who, on one hand is an admirer of Hitler, but on the other hand, the conflicted father of children who are half-Jewish. Mindful and resentful of her husband’s ambivalence, Gabi is determined to make sure her children are educated, devising schemes to keep them in school even after learning that any child less than 100% Aryan will eventually be kept from completing education. She even hires tutors who are willing to teach half-Jewish children and in this way comes to hire Fraulein Kaminsky who shows Gabi how to cure her frustration and rage: to keep her mouth filled with water until the urge to scream or rant has passed.
Terrifying yet darkly humorous, The Kaminsky Cure is the story of Gabi Brinkmann’s fight to keep her family alive in a world determined to destroy them.

I woke to find Heimstatt in a party mood that March day, with swastikas flapping in the breeze over every house but ours. “We’ve been united with the Fatherland,” Willibald said in mingled pride and fear. Then he locked himself in his study and I heard him alternately crying and shouting. Frau Jäger and my mother swiftly closed the windows; I didn’t understand why—it wasn’t a cold day.
We children weren’t allowed out. We never were. Standing on the balcony of the huge rambling Pfarrhaus, we watched the processions like bemused prisoners at a Roman triumph—or in my case like a child that hasn’t been invited to the next-door kid’s birthday party. When I waved and cheered with the rest of the village, my mother told me to stop that at once; when I started jeering, she told me to stop that too. So what was I supposed to do? Martin told me to just shut up, so I did that.
I concluded the reason why we’d been excluded from the celebration was that we were proper Germans, while the Aus-trians were not, little knowing that in fact it was the other way round and it was now the Austrians who were proper Germans while we were not. Nobody told me what had really happened, what it really meant, knowledge being rightly considered more dangerous in my case than ignorance. Never mind, the false conceit propped up my self-esteem. I came to think we Brink-manns were a people apart, a Chosen People. As indeed we were. Chosen for what, I fortunately didn’t know. But I certainly enjoyed lighting the obligatory candle in my window that night to celebrate the Führer’s return to his native land. It almost made up for not being allowed to hang out a swastika during the day.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt. Please note the Kindle edition has a different cover to the more recently released paperback edition.]

Praise for the Book
"The Tin Drum meets Life Is Beautiful in this tragicomic, one-of-a-kind novel." ~ Kirkus Reviews
"A child's-eye view makes delusion and hypocrisy shockingly stark." ~ The Guardian
"The Jewish mother Gabi, a tempest of energy that exhausts while it saves ... Sara, the burdened, responsible child ... the local Nazi official, more ambitious than vicious ... the housekeeper, obstinate and loyal ... Christopher New brings them to life." ~ Literary Review
"Christopher New is equally at home in both Asia and Europe. His eastern novels range over Hong Kong, China, India and Egypt during the rise and fall of the British presence in the Middle and Far East, while The Kaminsky Cure is set in Austria during the Third Reich." ~ Eastern Economic Review
"In his mixture of sophistication and inexperience, the narrator of The Kaminsky Cure owes a debt to the famously idiosyncratic narrator of Martin Amis’s 1991 novel Time’s Arrow, which is told backwards by the soul of a Nazi doctor – a soul that wishes to exonerate itself of any knowledge of atrocity ... this novel’s consistent viewpoint and wry tone make it surprisingly engaging." ~ Jewish Quarterly
"Beautifully written ... poignant ... memorable. The author brings to life the characters in a truly commanding manner and the writing is sharp, clear and humorous, despite the decidedly unfunny subject matter." ~ Australia Jewish News
"With Life is Beautiful Roberto Benigni gave a cinematic answer to the question [whether one can laugh about the Holocaust]. In literature it could be Christopher New." ~ Deutschland Radio

My Review
The story begins Christmas 1939, when our unnamed narrator is only five-and-three-quarters years old. He lives in the Austrian town of Heimstatt (which cleverly translates to "homeland") with his parents - Willibald and Gabi Brinkmann - and three siblings - Ilse, Martin, and Sara. Willibald is a Lutheran pastor, an Aryan, a staunch supporter of Hitler, and very much an absent father, who perpetually locks himself in his study to write religious plays that no one will ever perform. His wife Gabi was born a Jew but converted to Christianity in her teens. Nevertheless, in this time of the Nazi regime, she is not accepted by the townspeople - or even by her own husband. Her main goal in life is to ensure the education of her children. She constantly hatches new schemes to get around the laws that continually change to prevent Jews from getting educated. Along the way, she employs tutor Hertha von Kaminsky, who teaches Gabi the Kaminsky Cure - the art of taking in a mouthful of water to prevent oneself from speaking out inappropriately; this technique will come into play at crucial times throughout the narrative.
The story is told through the eyes of our child narrator. His tone remains light and humorous despite the constant "disappearances" and atrocities being committed around him. He reports with an air of innocence and naïveté, but with the wisdom of an adult, using a lot of foreshadowing and portent to keep the reader engaged. Another trick the author employs is to cut off the last sentence of each chapter, thereby forcing the reader to turn the page to read the end of the sentence, which also becomes the name of the next chapter. The writing conveys a great sense of atmosphere and is peppered with striking metaphors and similes. The author paints beautiful portraits of each of the many supporting characters, showing us their flaws, foibles, and eccentricities. There's the slow and infirm Ilse; Martin, who's desperate to join first the Hitler Youth and later the Luftwaffe; the practical Sara, who serves as a sounding board for her mother, Gabi; Annchen, the Down's Syndrome child of their poetic housekeeper, Jägerlein; and Fraulein Kaminsky's former pupils, the Habsburgs, whose family is in line for the Austrian throne.
This is storytelling at its best. The poignant ending with stay with you for a long time to come.
One of my favorite lines: "Every scene in the drama of her life plays on that inner stage of hers, and no one gets invited to the show."

About the Author
Christopher New was born in England and was educated at Oxford and Princeton Universities. Philosopher as well as novelist, he founded the Philosophy Department in Hong Kong University, where he taught for many years whilst writing The China Coast Trilogy (Shanghai, The Chinese Box, and A Change of Flag) and Goodbye Chairman Mao, as well as The Philosophy of Literature. He now divides his time between Europe and Asia and has written novels set in India (The Road to Maridur), Egypt (A Small Place in the Desert) and Europe (The Kaminsky Cure). His books have been translated into Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese and Portuguese. His latest novel, Gage Street Courtesan, appeared in March 2013.