The Seventh Gate
Set mostly in 1930s Berlin, Richard Zimler’s latest novel charts the experiences of Sophie Reidsel, a thoroughly likeable and feisty young woman maturing in the nasty hothouse of National Socialism. It is a very familiar tale as the Nazis and their increasingly rabid supporters turned the screw on those not seen to be suitable for a part in the new One Thousand Year Reich – these included disabled and Jewish people. Sophie’s autistic brother Hansi and her Jewish friends, sooner or later, come under the chilling attention of the Nazi rulers and their unpleasant adherents.
Sophie’s friendship with an assorted bunch of outsiders and her love affair with elderly Isaac, a Jewish man concerned with investigating essential and arcane Kabbalistic truths, place her firmly in the centre of the resistance to Nazism. The alienation she feels towards her parents and in particular her father’s Damascene conversion from Communism to Nazism pushes her further towards the dangerous margins of the new Germany. Eventually, she leaves and finds a new life with some of her more fortunate friends abroad.
Sophie is an engaging creation but somehow just not really believable as a young girl and woman in 1930s Berlin. The plot chugs along at a fair pace and the tale is moving but I certainly did not feel that I learned anything new or different about Nazi Germany, and the Kabbalistic elements seem unnecessary. An easy and entertaining read despite its length, but it is not literary fiction.