Last Stop Vienna
The story opens at the end of World War I. Fifteen-year-old Karl Naumann’s father and older brother have been killed, and he abandons his mother and drops out of school. As the German economy disintegrates, he joins a company of veterans fighting communists in the streets. Quickly, he becomes one of Hitler’s stormtroopers and loyally serves the National Socialist Party, i.e. the Nazi Party, throughout the turbulent 1920s. During his service, he meets the enticing 16-year-old Geli Raubal, Hitler’s niece and ward. A few years later, Karl begins an affair with her, although he is married. Over time, Geli’s relationship with Hitler takes on a nefarious dimension. As politics and his personal life become more chaotic, Karl’s disillusionment forces him to desert Hitler, and as 1931 wanes, everything unravels.
Nagorski’s novel is absorbing, even if you know the history. Interestingly, the story is told by Karl, who is writing in prison, so a foreboding tragic tone permeates the novel. Still, Nagorski skillfully weaves a compelling knot between the fictional characters and the historical drama, which leads to a surprising ending. This is a dark yet rewarding first novel.