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The Castle in the Forest
Cover of The Castle in the Forest
The Castle in the Forest
A Novel
Borrow Borrow Borrow
The final work of fiction from Norman Mailer, a defining voice of the postwar era, is also one of his most ambitious, taking as its subject the evil of Adolf Hitler. The narrator, a mysterious SS man in possession of extraordinary secrets, follows Adolf from birth through adolescence and offers revealing portraits of Hitler’s parents and siblings. A crucial reflection on the shadows that eclipsed the twentieth century, Mailer’s novel delivers myriad twists and surprises along with characteristically astonishing insights into the struggle between good and evil that exists in us all.
 
Praise for The Castle in the Forest
 
“This remarkable novel about the young Adolf Hitler, his family and their shifting circumstances, is Mailer’s most perfect apprehension of the absolutely alien. . . . Mailer doesn’t inhabit these historical figures so much as possess them.”The New York Times Book Review
 
“Terrifically creepy . . . an icy and convincing portrait of the dictator as a young sociopath.”Entertainment Weekly
 
“The work of a bold and confident writer who may yet be seen as the preeminent novelist of our time . . . a source of tremendous narrative pleasure . . . Every character . . . lives and breathes.”—South Florida Sun-Sentinel
 
“Blackly hilarious, beautifully written . . . [The Castle in the Forest] has vigor, excitement, humor and vastness of spirit.”The New York Observer
 
Praise for Norman Mailer
 
“[Norman Mailer] loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation.”The New York Times
 
“A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent.”The New Yorker
 
“Mailer is indispensable, an American treasure.”The Washington Post
 
“A devastatingly alive and original creative mind.”Life
 
“Mailer is fierce, courageous, and reckless and nearly everything he writes has sections of headlong brilliance.”The New York Review of Books
 
“The largest mind and imagination [in modern] American literature . . . Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book.”Chicago Tribune
 
“Mailer is a master of his craft. His language carries you through the story like a leaf on a stream.”The Cincinnati Post
The final work of fiction from Norman Mailer, a defining voice of the postwar era, is also one of his most ambitious, taking as its subject the evil of Adolf Hitler. The narrator, a mysterious SS man in possession of extraordinary secrets, follows Adolf from birth through adolescence and offers revealing portraits of Hitler’s parents and siblings. A crucial reflection on the shadows that eclipsed the twentieth century, Mailer’s novel delivers myriad twists and surprises along with characteristically astonishing insights into the struggle between good and evil that exists in us all.
 
Praise for The Castle in the Forest
 
“This remarkable novel about the young Adolf Hitler, his family and their shifting circumstances, is Mailer’s most perfect apprehension of the absolutely alien. . . . Mailer doesn’t inhabit these historical figures so much as possess them.”The New York Times Book Review
 
“Terrifically creepy . . . an icy and convincing portrait of the dictator as a young sociopath.”Entertainment Weekly
 
“The work of a bold and confident writer who may yet be seen as the preeminent novelist of our time . . . a source of tremendous narrative pleasure . . . Every character . . . lives and breathes.”—South Florida Sun-Sentinel
 
“Blackly hilarious, beautifully written . . . [The Castle in the Forest] has vigor, excitement, humor and vastness of spirit.”The New York Observer
 
Praise for Norman Mailer
 
“[Norman Mailer] loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation.”The New York Times
 
“A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent.”The New Yorker
 
“Mailer is indispensable, an American treasure.”The Washington Post
 
“A devastatingly alive and original creative mind.”Life
 
“Mailer is fierce, courageous, and reckless and nearly everything he writes has sections of headlong brilliance.”The New York Review of Books
 
“The largest mind and imagination [in modern] American literature . . . Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book.”Chicago Tribune
 
“Mailer is a master of his craft. His language carries you through the story like a leaf on a stream.”The Cincinnati Post
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One 1

    You may call me D.T. That is short for Dieter, a German name, and D.T. will do, now that I am in America, this curious nation. If I draw upon reserves of patience, it is because time passes here without meaning for me, and that is a state to dispose one to rebellion. Can this be why I am writing a book? Among my former associates, we had to swear never to undertake such an action. I was, after all, a member of a matchless Intelligence group. Its classification was SS, Special Section IV-2a, and we were directly under the supervision of Heinrich Himmler. Today, the man is seen as a monster, and I would not look to defend him—he turned out to be one hell of a monster. All the same, Himmler did have an original mind, and one of his theses does take me into my literary intentions, which are, I promise, not routine.

    2

    The room that Himmler used when speaking to our elite group was a small lecture hall with dark walnut paneling and was limited to twenty seats raked upward in four rows of five. My emphasis will not be, however, on such descriptions. I prefer to concern myself with Himmler’s unorthodox concepts. They may even have stimulated me to begin a memoir that is bound to prove unsettling. I know that I will sail into a sea of turbulence, for I must uproot many a conventional belief. A cacophony erupts in my spirit at the thought. As Intelligence officers, we often seek to warp our findings. Mendacity, after all, possesses its own art, but this is a venture that will ask me to forsake such skills.

    Enough! Let me present Heinrich Himmler. You, the reader, must be prepared for no easy occasion. This man, whose nickname, behind his back, was Heini, had become by 1938 one of the four truly important leaders in Germany. Yet his most cherished and secret intellectual pursuit was the study of incest. It dominated our highest-level research, and our findings were kept to closed conferences. Incest, Heini would propose, had always been rife among the poor of all lands. Even our German peasantry had been much afflicted, yes, even as late as the nineteenth century. “Normally, no one in learned circles cares to speak of the matter,” he would remark. “After all, there is nothing to be done. Who would bother to call some poor wretch a certified offspring of incest? No, every establishment of every civilized nation looks to sweep such stuff under the rug.”

    That is, all ranking government officials in the world except for our Heinrich Himmler. He did have the most extraordinary ideas fermenting behind his unhappy spectacles. I must repeat that for a man with a bland and chinless mug, he certainly exhibited a frustrating mixture of brilliance and stupidity. For example, he declared himself to be a pagan. He predicted that there would be a healthy future for humankind once paganism took over the world. Everyone’s soul would then be enriched with hitherto unacceptable pleasures. None of us could conceive, however, of an orgy where carnality would rise to such a pitch that you might find a woman ready to throw herself into a flesh-melting roll with Heinrich Himmler. No, not even in the most innovative spirit! For you could always see his face as it must once have been at a school dance, that bespectacled disapproving stare of the wallflower, tall, thin, a youth full of physical ineptitude. Already he had a small potbelly. There he was, ready to wait by the wall while the dance went on.

    Yet he grew obsessed over the years with matters others did not dare to mention aloud (which, I must say, is usually the first step to new thought). In fact, he paid close attention to mental retardation. Why? Because Himmler...
About the Author-
  • Born in 1923 in Long Branch, New Jersey, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Norman Mailer was one of the most influential writers of the second half of the twentieth century and a leading public intellectual for nearly sixty years. He is the author of more than thirty books. The Castle in the Forest, his last novel, was his eleventh New York Times bestseller. His first novel, The Naked and the Dead, has never gone out of print. His 1968 nonfiction narrative, The Armies of the Night, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He won a second Pulitzer for The Executioner's Song and is the only person to have won Pulitzers in both fiction and nonfiction. Five of his books were nominated for National Book Awards, and he won a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation in 2005. Mr. Mailer died in 2007 in New York City.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from November 6, 2006
    Mailer did Jesus in The Gospel According to the Son
    ; now he plumbs the psyche of history's most demonic figure in this chilling fictional chronicle of Hitler's boyhood. Mailer tells the story through the eyes of Dieter, a devil tasked by Satan (usually called the Maestro) with fostering Hitler's nascent evil, but in this study of a dysfunctional 19th-century middle-class Austrian household, the real presiding spirit is Freud. Young Adolph (often called Adi) is the offspring of an incestuous marriage between a coarse, domineering civil servant and a lasciviously indulgent mom. The boy duly develops an obsession with feces, a fascination with power, a grandiose self-image and a sexually charged yen for mass slaughter (the sight of gassed or burning beehives thrills him). Dieter frets over Hitler's ego-formation while marveling at the future dictator's burning gaze, his ability to sway weak minds and the instinctive führerprinzip
    that emerges when he plays war with neighborhood boys—talents furthered by Central Europe's ambient romantic nationalism. Mailer's view of evil embraces religions and metaphysics, but it's rooted in the squalid soil of toilet-training travails and perverted sexual urges. The novel sometimes feels like a psychoanalytic version of The Screwtape Letters
    , but Mailer arrives at a somber, compelling portrait of a monstrous soul.

  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2006
    Mailer's first novel in a decade is a deceptively dry psychobiography of young Adolf Hitler or, more accurately, of Hitler's dysfunctional family. Mailer's unreliable narrator, one of Heinrich Himmler's SS investigators, painstakingly documents the family curse of incest and concludes that Hitler's father, a womanizing customs official, married his own illegitimate daughter. But as the book unfolds, the narrator also reveals that he is really a devil working directly for the Evil One. Since the story ends before the outbreak of World War I, readers hoping for battlefield action or beer hall brawls will be disappointed. Instead, lengthy chapters are devoted to the family's doomed attempts at commercial honey production. Longtime Mailer fans will spot provocative tie-ins to many of the earlier novels, including "The Naked and the Dead" (1948) and "The Gospel According to the Son" (1996). Who knew that Mailer was an amateur theologian? This gloomy and claustrophobic book is unlikely to become a best seller, but it is an important addition to the Mailer canon and an essential purchase for collections of postwar American fiction. [See Prepub Alert, "LJ" 9/15/06.]Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles

    Copyright 2006 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    November 15, 2006
    In his first novel in more than a decade, Mailer continues to provoke. Only a writer with his temerity would attempt a novel interpreting perhaps the most notorious figure in modern history, Adolf Hitler. Obviously, this is not your usual historical novel (neither was the author's fictional foray into pharaonic Egypt, " Ancient Evenings," 1983). Here the focus is on Hitler's childhood and youth and immediate forebears. This is less a psychological study of evil than a fanciful one: the story is narrated by a devil, one of the corps of devils working under Satan, who has chosen Hitler personally to do his "work." Mailer has worked out a whole system for (pardon the rhyme) levels of devils, which will strike the reader as corresponding to theological theories concerning the degrees of angels, and, like angels, the devils struggle within their "family" as family members do--that is, they struggle not only among themselves but also with Satan. Mailer is never an easy read; in this novel, as in all his fiction, subject matter, themes, and prose style make demands on readers' willingness or even ability to stay focused. Here he cannot be faulted for inadequate knowledge of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century central European history, but many readers will find the Satan-and-army-of-devils conceit a gimmick, perhaps even an offensive one, in trying to reach an understanding of evil. Other readers will be, as always, excited by Mailer's intelligence and creativity.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2006, American Library Association.)

  • The New York Observer Praise for Norman Mailer

    Praise for The Castle in the Forest "This remarkable novel about the young Adolf Hitler, his family and their shifting circumstances, is Mailer's most perfect apprehension of the absolutely alien. . . . Mailer doesn't inhabit these historical figures so much as possess them."--The New York Times Book Review "Terrifically creepy . . . an icy and convincing portrait of the dictator as a young sociopath."--Entertainment Weekly "The work of a bold and confident writer who may yet be seen as the preeminent novelist of our time . . . a source of tremendous narrative pleasure . . . Every character . . . lives and breathes."--South Florida Sun-Sentinel "Blackly hilarious, beautifully written . . . [The Castle in the Forest] has vigor, excitement, humor and vastness of spirit."

  • The Cincinnati Post "[Norman Mailer] loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation."--The New York Times "A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent."--The New Yorker "Mailer is indispensable, an American treasure."--The Washington Post "A devastatingly alive and original creative mind."--Life "Mailer is fierce, courageous, and reckless and nearly everything he writes has sections of headlong brilliance."--The New York Review of Books "The largest mind and imagination [in modern] American literature . . . Unlike just about every American writer since Henry James, Mailer has managed to grow and become richer in wisdom with each new book."--Chicago Tribune "Mailer is a master of his craft. His language carries you through the story like a leaf on a stream."
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