A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar, a well-travelled Israeli currently residing in London, concerns the warp and woof of what was, what might have been and, to some degree, what still is. In Tidhar's book, it's 1939 and a writer of pulp fiction, Shomer, incarcerated in Auschwitz, imagines a book about Wolf, a once formidable German dictator, who has escaped from his native land following a communist take-over, and is now in London working as a private-eye. Not that Wolf is the only ex-Nazi in London. Pretty much all of the big guns have decamped in the capital where anti-semite fascist Oswald Mosley is about to become prime minister.
Still a megalomaniac, though no longer a leader of men, Wolf has hit rock bottom, just another fallen schlemiel, traipsing London's mean streets, humiliated by one and all (including a circumcision scene that's not easy to forget). With his reputation has preceeding him, he's hired by a young, beautiful, wealthy and sex-obsessed Jewish woman to locate her sister, as well as by Mosley who wants to know who might be after him. Throw in the time-honoured cliche of murdered prostitutes and you get a parallel universe, or xenophobic dreamscape of a London that is just about imaginable, depending, of course, on who is doing the imagining- in this case Shomer and reader alike. In Tidhar’s novel everyone is compromised- whether Nazi or Jew. Of course, the police think it's Wolf who has committed those murders. And as yesterday's news, the poor guy can't even make any money from his autobiography Mein Kampf. Only Leni Riefenstahl seems to have escaped unscathed, to Hollywood, where acting opposite Humphrey Bogart, she's starring in a film called Tangier, which is Casablanca, written, of course, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer whom Wolf claims to admire. In any case, a nightmare landscape that becomes, for Wolf, all too real.
Uncategorisable- think PK Dick crossed with Jim Thompson's King Blood- what makes this novel so subversive isn't the warped alternative universe Tidhar establishes, but that he's out to muddy the waters when it comes to the perceived Manicheistic wisdom regarding the history of that era. Merging fact, fiction and fantasy, Tidhar also delivers an interesting take on the state of Israel, the holocaust industry and the power to imagine what the unimaginable. Here Jewish guilt takes on a new meaning, while the characters who inhabit the novel- whether Hitler (trans. Noble Wolf), Mosley, Diana and Unity Mitford, Goering, Barbie, Hess, etc.- are only slightly off-centre, imagined by someone who, in turn, is being imagined. Like the Watcher in the novel, who tracks Wolf, as he himself is watched, imagined, written, etc..
So subversive and darkly humorous is this novel that I couldn't help but wonder about the author's safety in certain quarters. But, then, this is the same guy who wrote an earlier novel entitled Osama. Clearly, this is someone who deserves a certain amount of respect. As for Hitler...well, there are all too many Hitlers around these days. Not quite the "banality of evil" that Hannah Arendt spoke of, but more like its distant, drug-addled and boisterous cousin. But, then, maybe, within time every dictator, no matter how degenerate and horrible, becomes just another object of disgust and ridicule.