Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Non-Banality of Evil

Morality never gets away completely clean. What's clear to others, especially later, by no means comes through in crystalline at the moment. Neal Storrs's new book, In Times of War, makes this abundantly clear.

Daniel Levashonsky never intended to become an SS officer, never thought he could be. A Mennonite of German heritage in Palestine of the 1930s, Levashonsky slowly closes ranks with the Nazis as the result of other men’s ambitions and his own Christian imperative to free Russia of its anti-religious regime. But the grip of Fascism slowly forces him into horrific moral battles with himself, his loved ones, and the kind intentions shown to him, from which you can be sure that no contenders emerge in anything like tranquility.

Author Neal Storrs gives us a moral kaleidoscope of a tale about identity, the contest between love and duty, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Storrs admirably paints the moral confusion of the early Nazi juggernaut, while keeping his protagonist so righteously faithful to the Christian imperative as to be largely insensible to the horrors taking shape around him.

Except that Levashonsky is never exactly the good guy fighting evil from the inside. So bespattered with guilt is his bewildered journey that the hero emerges compromised enough to keep the moral questions alive long after the story ends, through enough twists and turns to addle even the fine Mercedes he drives through Berlin. All in all it's a wonderful and thought-provoking read.