My Red Heaven

Written by Lance Olsen
Review by Ann Chamberlin

June 10, 1927, Berlin. Like the abstract blocks of color in the contemporary painting by Jewish-German artist Otto Freundlich of the same title as this book, blocks of prose in different styles evoke the lives of about thirty people living in the German capital on this day: Franz Kafka dying of consumption, Martin Buber, Greta Garbo among others. Werner Heisenberg mulling over quantum physics. Even the rising politician, veteran of the Great War, Adolf Hitler is wonderfully humanized with details of his vegetarianism and bad teeth as he devises the chant that will carry his career forward: Sieg Heil.

Rosa Luxemburg has already died and become a fluttering blue butterfly who gets crushed by the careless boots of a retired sommelier and his long-time lover Julian. So do varied vignettes fade into one another, particularly focused on the death of a man in traffic in a public square. And life goes on—

Everyday life seems uneventful as the high culture and scientific ascendency of this place and time proceed, sometimes in a sordid Cabaret sort of way. But the reader is prodded to make the plot herself, to see where these lives will be in fifteen years, the Third Reich not to be denied or turned aside by either humanity, creativity or intellect.

Those seeking a traditional plot will be confused. But I thought the book brilliant, the height of what our language and genre can accomplish.