Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Kaminsky Cure by Christopher New

Title: The Kaminsky Cure
Author: Christopher New
Genre: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

The Kaminsky Cure is a poignant yet comedic novel of a half Jewish/half Christian family caught up in the machinery of Hitler’s final solution. The matriarch, Gabi, was born Jewish but converted to Christianity in her teens. The patriarch, Willibald, is a Lutheran minister who, on one hand is an admirer of Hitler, but on the other hand, the conflicted father of children who are half-Jewish. Mindful and resentful of her husband’s ambivalence, Gabi is determined to make sure her children are educated, devising schemes to keep them in school even after learning that any child less than 100% Aryan will eventually be kept from completing education. She even hires tutors who are willing to teach half-Jewish children and in this way comes to hire Fraulein Kaminsky who shows Gabi how to cure her frustration and rage: to keep her mouth filled with water until the urge to scream or rant has passed.

Excerpt #1

I woke to find Heimstatt in a party mood that March day, with swastikas flapping in the breeze over every house but ours. “We’ve been united with the Fatherland,” Willibald said in mingled pride and fear. Then he locked himself in his study and I heard him alternately crying and shouting. Frau Jäger and my mother swiftly closed the windows; I didn’t understand why—it wasn’t a cold day.

We children weren’t allowed out. We never were. Standing on the balcony of the huge rambling Pfarrhaus, we watched the processions like bemused prisoners at a Roman triumph—or in my case like a child that hasn’t been invited to the next-door kid’s birthday party. When I waved and cheered with the rest of the village, my mother told me to stop that at once; when I started jeering, she told me to stop that too. So what was I supposed to do? Martin told me to just shut up, so I did that.

I concluded the reason why we’d been excluded from the celebration was that we were proper Germans, while the Austrians were not, little knowing that in fact it was the other way round and it was now the Austrians who were proper Germans while we were not. Nobody told me what had really happened, what it really meant, knowledge being rightly considered more dangerous in my case than ignorance. Never mind, the false conceit propped up my self-esteem. I came to think we Brinkmanns were a people apart, a Chosen People. As indeed we were. Chosen for what, I fortunately didn’t know. But I certainly enjoyed lighting the obligatory candle in my window that night to celebrate the Führer’s return to his native land. It almost made up for not being allowed to hang out a swastika during the day.

The Author:

Christopher New was born in England and was educated at Oxford and Princeton Universities. Philosopher as well as novelist, he founded the Philosophy Department in Hong Kong University, where he taught for many years whilst writing The China Coast Trilogy (Shanghai, The Chinese Box and A Change of Flag) and Goodbye Chairman Mao, as well as The Philosophy of Literature. He now divides his time between Europe and Asia and has written novels set in India (The Road to Maridur), Egypt (A Small Place in the Desert) and Europe (The Kaminsky Cure). His books have been translated into Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese and Portuguese. His latest novel, Gage Street Courtesan, appeared in March 2013.

Excerpt #2

There are lots of things I notice this Christmas that I’ve never noticed before. When my mother takes me shopping, for instance, which is only between the hours of three and five, there are certain village stores she will go into and certain stores she won’t. And the stores she will not enter are usually the smarter ones, the fish shop and the cooperative, for instance, which are near the best inns like Franzi Wimmer’s and have glossy portraits of the Führer prominently on show inside, while the shops she does enter are the cheaper ones, even the dirtier ones, like the baker whose bread is often stale and the dairy where the milk is often sour. They have pictures of the Führer on their walls too, of course, but smaller ones and not so often dusted. Some of them even have little specks of fly-shit on his face.

I’m puzzled by my mother’s shopping choices. I take it that as we are from Berlin, we must be a cut above the rest, so we should be going to the best shops, not the worst. And why do we go only in the late afternoon? I know that other people like Jägerlein go at any time of the day. My mother doesn’t explain these anomalies, and I sense I’m not supposed to know the real reason, although I’m still convinced it has to do with our being proper Germans, while the villagers are not. Nobody tells me where I’ve gone wrong. Nobody explains that Gabi is a vicious and degenerate Jewess, that the best shops won’t serve her, that in any case she’s allowed to shop only between the hours of three and five so that decent Aryans shoppers can arrange to avoid the disgusting sight of her altogether.

My parents have always been bickering and crying (I think that’s normal—what else do I know?), but they never openly mention this source of their troubles. Imagine, I can’t recall ever being called a half-Jew yet, let alone a Yid, and perhaps I never have been. I don’t even know what a Yid or half-Jew is. Sara does, of course; she knows all right. And so do the others. But not me. Why should I? I’m never allowed out to play with the village children, so they aren’t going to tell me. And neither Jägerlein nor my mother is going to either. As for my brother and sisters—they’re certainly not going to tell me what it’s like to be called a half-Jew or a dirty Yid. Like rape victims, they never tell because they feel they’re guilty.

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