THE ABSOLUTION OF OTTO FINKEL
by John R. McKay.
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This historical novel tells the story of five boys, joined forever in the misery of a shared moment in childhood. Though only one is scarred physically, the ramifications of that terrible day reverberate years later for each of them. This is an epic telling of the momentous choices life offers, and the selections we make when pressed in the most extreme conditions imaginable.
The stage of this tale is World War II, though the story begins before the war and ends long after that horrific conflict (though not its effects) have ended. The boys spend only a few days together in their early adolescence, and everything that happens extends outward like a starburst from a single moment of innocence lost.
There are no cardboard cutouts here. Every character gracing the pages of this superb book are drawn in the most vivid colors imaginable. The innocence of childhood, the depredations of war, the maelstrom of battle, the degeneracy of men and women forced to the lowest rungs of human existence, the misery of reflection, the sorrow and regrets of lives both well lived and poorly ended. The depraved actions of those whom luck and the lessor courage of life have exalted over others is not left out. It is all here, and never embellished. The subject matter is such that no embellishment is necessary. This book tugs at the heart strings from beginning to end.
Author John McKay writes with authority and confidence, and always accords his subject a respect only the best fiction can muster. In bringing his characters to life, he pens into existence a world true to the subject matter. The verisimilitude is immersive. Ones feels the pathos and chokes as the forlorn and doomed march to their inevitable end. We imbibe the liquor as we sit with German soldiers in the cafes of Rome. We feel the pangs of hunger in all the little moments alongside the starving prisoners, now the dregs of humanity. We suffer at the sight of the children dragged through the hell of Drancy on the outskirts of Paris.
And yet, THE ABSOLUTION OF OTTO FINKEL is not a depressing novel. It seems to move ever uphill, ever toward a loftier presence. In the end, it succeeds wonderfully. There is redemption here, maybe not for everyone, but for some.
That is, after all, how real life works.