The Song Before It Is Sung
The steady flow of literary interest with Nazism and its impact upon history shows no sign of abating. This is, perhaps, not so surprising when there is still so much to understand about this dreadful period of depravity that seized an otherwise highly developed society.
This intelligent novel concerns the essential impossibility of both absolute historical knowledge and of the ability to completely understand another human being. The book is set both in 1930-40s Europe and in present-day London. Conrad Senior, a rather disorganised writer in his mid-thirties, has been given papers and documents by his All Souls College professor, Elya Mendel (based on the philosopher Isaiah Berlin), relating to Mendel’s friendship and subsequent estrangement with Count Axel von Gottberg (Adam von Trott). Gottberg, an aristocratic member of the resistance to Hitler, was executed after the failure of the July 1944 assassination plot. Berlin represents the English attitude of empiricism and pragmatism while Gottberg is in thrall to the idea of a German destiny and ultimate guiding spirit and, at first, sees the Nazis as just a bad lapse in taste but, later, a pernicious threat to its very existence
Conrad, engaged in the pursuit of truth and the lives of these two men, also suffers the disintegration of his marriage to the clinically efficient Francine, a doctor who is frustrated at Conrad’s vague disorganisation and disinclination to follow a successful career. Eventually, Conrad comes to the understanding of the emotionally complicated motivations and relationships of the two men and their friends and lovers in the singular milieu of Nazi Europe. It is a moving and profound tale, thought-provoking and complex in its message.