Monday, 10 October 2016

Ostland - David Thomas

Title: Ostland
Author: David Thomas
ISBN: 978-162-3-65849-6
Publisher: Quercus
Year: 2015
Pages: 400

David Thomas’s novel is an in-depth psychological analysis of how an individual is able to be manipulated and, by extension, enable themselves to be manipulated thereby adjusting their moral compass in a justifiable manner. It is a study of transformation facilitated by duty, circumstance, training and conditioning.

Commencing in pre-war Germany, the author traces the career of a brilliant young police detective as he commences his profession with one of the elite crime squad units in Berlin. What starts as an idealistic, somewhat na├»ve approach to the harsh realities of police work undergoes a gradual but inexorable change as his success results in promotion and additional responsibilities concurrent with the rise of Nazism and the outbreak of war. This entails a commission in the SS, a transfer to Minsk and an expanding task of dealing with partisans and other undesirables (namely Jews). The narrative flips between the pre-war and war period to the early 1960’s when another idealist undertakes the prosecution of one of West Germany’s greatest police officers for war crimes (the self-same young police detective).

The author has created a fascinating and disturbing analysis of human nature and its strength and vulnerability. Looked at with the benefit of hindsight it is easy to condemn in the strongest terms and with broad strokes the behaviours of those responsible for the slaughter of so many. Yet, examined in greater detail it becomes apparent that the activities of these individuals may in fact be far more nuanced than the black and white that society wishes.

This book is not an apology or an excuse for the appalling activities of the SS, Gestapo and the police forces who carried out the policies of the WW2 German government but neither is it a blanket condemnation. Like all great books, the author sets out to force the readers, through the medium of a story, to challenge paradigms, cause to reflect and to think. Thomas succeeds in this endeavour extremely well.  His story telling is factual and tight, the pace, while not dynamic is nonetheless engaging. This is a well written, disturbing narrative of a cast of characters and their society in a struggle that transcends the sounds of the guns and strikes at the very nature of who we are and how we deal with unimaginable circumstances. 

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