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Der Vater eines Mörders (The Father of a Murderer) by Alfred Andersch

At first sight this looks like a lightweight school story about a single 45-minute Greek class at a German Gymnasium in 1928.

The school director comes into the classroom and takes over from the usual teacher, Kandelbinder. He proceeds to test, torment and humiliate not only the students but also Kandelbinder.

The book gives the reader an insight into the school system at the time but it is also a microcosm of the wider society just before the rise to the power of the Nazis. When we discover that the school director is Himmler senior, the father of Heinrich Himmler, the book becomes far more than a simple school story and the reader sees it deal with questions of power, authority, punishment, fate v free will, nature v nuture, and a range of relationships, predominantly that between father and son.

Ultimately though, by seeing the father in action, you cannot but help ask yourself: is this why his son became the man he did? Was the father to blame in part for the monster his son was? And this is what is most interesting about the book: the questions that it raises and the fact that they are unanswerable.

It is available in English translation as The Father of a Murderer.

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