by Bruce TierneyOctober, 1999
Hitler's Niece, by National Book Award Finalist Ron Hansen, is troubling for the reader. On the one hand, the reader wants to hang on to the perception of Hitler as the archvillain of the 20th century; on the other hand, Hansen's portrayal is of a driven, inhibited, humorous, insecure, and therefore very human, man. Not sympathetic, mind you, but human. Viewed through the eyes of his beloved niece Angelika (Geli), Hitler is portrayed in this fictional work over an 18-year period from 1913-1931. The narration starts with his school days, continues through his internment in the Landsberg Fortress on charges of treason, touches on the writing of Mein Kampf, and draws to a close with his consolidation of power with the Nazi party. At this point, Hitler was little known outside Germany, a situation that was to change dramatically over the next few years.
Geli was the apfel of Hitler's eye, from the time she was a tiny child until she grew into full-bodied fraulein-hood. Over the years, however, the direction of his attentions went hopelessly awry. Although maintaining an avuncular facade, Hitler developed an infatuation for his niece that was at once unhealthy and unrequited. Geli was entranced with the man's oracular abilities, and his free and easy way of spending money on her, but her heart belonged to Hitler's friend and chauffeur, Emil Maurice. And still Hitler's obsession grew.
Hitler's Niece is based largely on fact. Hansen painstakingly researched and carefully pieced together Hitler's and Geli's whereabouts for the narrative. Actual quotations from Hitler's speeches pepper the text. And through it all, Hansen effectively captures the desperation of a man ravenous for love and power in equal measure, a man on the road to becoming a monster, the likes of which the modern world had never known.
Bruce Tierney is a writer and songwriter.