How does someone like Adolf Hitler become who he becomes? Like everyone else, once he was a child, going to school, trying to get his parents to love him, and dealing with the questions and disappointments of life. What makes someone like Hitler do the despicable things he did, while other people, even within his own family, go on to live normal lives?Norman Mailer wrestles with these sorts of questions in The Castle in the Forest, his first new work in a decade. The novel begins by tracing Hitler's lineage, a family tree plagued with the rot of inbreeding. After her first three children die in a diphtheria outbreak, Adolf's mother places all her hopes in him, at least until a more charming child is born. His father is a distant and often harsh civil servant who is constantly having affairs with any woman at hand. When he retires to the country, he takes up beekeeping, and young Adolf is smitten with the neighborhood wise man and resident beekeeper, known as Der Alte, or the Old Sorcerer. Meanwhile, Adolf plays war games, is jealous of his little brother whom everyone loves, and starts getting the feeling that he is meant to be an important and powerful figure.
In a supernatural twist, Mailer's tale is narrated by a demon who has been put in charge of Hitler's development by the devil himself. The demon proudly proclaims his part in the drama, but whenever something that sounds like foreshadowing happens (such as when Hitler's father gasses a box of bees in front of him), readers are told not to think too much of it. This novel is classic Mailer, full of gripping detail and colored by an immense amount of research (a lengthy bibliography is included in the book). Mailer's fans will eagerly pick up this book and will not be disappointed. Those new to Mailer will find his dark story is full of imagination, and it may well change the way they think about this reviled figure. Sarah E. White is a freelance writer and editor living in Arkansas.