Winnie and Wolf
The title refers to Winifred Wagner, the English wife of Richard Wagner’s son Siegfried, and Wolf, the self-chosen nickname of Adolf Hitler. The novel is constructed as a sort of confession and memoir written by an unnamed secretary and admirer of Winnie’s, meant for his adopted daughter, to inform her that her birth parents are none other than Winnie and Wolf. This startling and complicated premise provides the framework for a novel that is at once an interesting biographical portrait of Winifred, a history of the rise of Hitlerism, a thesis on Wagner’s works and an open discussion on all manners of philosophical thought. And those are just the major themes! Side stories, parenthetical references, essays, minor acts and subplots abound.
There is much to appreciate in this book, its portrait of Germany in the twenties and thirties for example, but it is often difficult to discern amidst the maddeningly numerous philosophical and musical asides. This is a ponderous tome more about ideas than plot or character. As a result, historical personages, Hitler in particular, come off fairly superficially, complete with their every idiosyncrasy but lacking depth. Similarly, there is the occasional perplexing historical error. What depth is exhibited within its pages include the philosophical underpinnings of anti-Semitism as well as the interplay of Wagnerian themes and the events of the times, a well-worn analogy to the growth and downfall of Nazism. On the plus side, the sections concerning Richard Wagner and his family are both interesting and informative. However, unless one has a particular interest in either Hitler or Wagner, it is best to leave this opaque and nearly impenetrable volume alone.