Synopses & Reviews
No career in modern American letters is at once so brilliant, varied,
and controversial as that of Norman Mailer. In a span of more than six
decades, Mailer has searched into subjects ranging from World War II to
Ancient Egypt, from the march on the Pentagon to Marilyn Monroe, from
Henry Miller and Mohammad Ali to Jesus Christ. Now, in The Castle in the Forest
his first major work of fiction in more than a decade, Mailer offers
what may be his consummate literary endeavor: He has set out to explore
the evil of Adolf Hitler.
The narrator, a mysterious SS man
who is later revealed to be an exceptional presence, gives us young
Adolf from birth, as well as Hitler's father and mother, his
sisters and brothers, and the intimate details of his childhood and
A tapestry of unforgettable characters, The Castle in the Forest
delivers its playful twists and surprises with astonishing insight into
the nature of the struggle between good and evil that exists in us all.
At its core is a hypothesis that propels this novel and makes it a work
of stunning originality. Now, on the eve of his eighty-fourth birthday,
Norman Mailer may well be saying more than he ever has before.
"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 fhrerprinzip 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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In his first novel in more than a decade, Mailer continues to provoke....Mailer is never an easy read...many readers will find the Satan-and-army-of-devils conceit a gimmick....Other readers will be, as always, excited by Mailer's intelligence and creativity." Booklist
"A novel as odd as it is thematically ambitious reveals the source of Adolf Hitler's evil. (The devil made him do it.)....Alternately engaging, embarrassing and exasperating." Kirkus Reviews
"The Castle in the Forest is a baffling, meandering, self-indulgent curio of a book at moments brilliantly insightful and fascinating but more often prompting jaw-dropping incredulity." The Washington Post Book World
"[F]or all his excesses, Mailer paints an icy and convincing portrait of the dictator as a young sociopath, both prissy and sadistic, simultaneously sentimental and stupendously cruel. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"The new book is lascivious, grandiose, cosmically critical (finding something Teutonic in technology and touting it as the Devil's own handiwork) and cantankerous, filled with grandstanding pronouncements on the nature of evil." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"A nervy and sometimes pratfallen story, both absorbing and absurd....At its best, the book...is attention-sustaining and uncartoonish." Thomas Mallon, The Wall Street Journal
"As fascinating and deft as The Castle in the Forest is, it seems, at nearly 500 pages, only to have tilled the ground. Perhaps the harvest of this novelist's great talent and imagination will come in a necessary sequel." Ron Hansen, The Los Angeles Times
"[A]udacious, preposterous and often delicious....You can forgive most of his out-of-this-world setup when the stuff on the ground plotting, characters and action are this engagingly drawn....Give Mailer credit for taking a big swing and shining a light on a past that Hitler, himself, tried to hide." Chicago Sun-Times
"[W]ith a narrative that alternately plods and rambles, an absence of convincing psychological insight, and an oversupply of stale literary tricks, what Mailer's novel mostly demonstrates is the evil of banality." The Houston Chronicle
"When Mailer drops the theological fantasy and concentrates on Hitler family relations, he actually delivers a compelling, convincing drama....But the devil-made-him-do-it explanation of young Adolf's start on the road to genocide feels like a cop-out. It may be a metaphor, but it's an awfully tired one." Seattle Times
"How could a writer as intelligent and original as Norman Mailer have digested this library of books and returned with the superficial, twisted, and finally just plain stupid vision of Hitler in this novel?...After all the decades of inquiry into Hitler by writers and historians and philosophers and psychologists, this is what Mailer has come to propose: the devil made him do it!" Ruth Franklin, The New Republic
(read the entire New Republic review
A mysterious SS man offers an insightful glimpse of the life and career of Adolf Hitler, offering a unique perspective on his family, his childhood and adolescence, and the evolution of the man who became the personification of evil, in a panoramic novel that explores the essence of the struggle between good and evil that exists in us all.
About the Author
Norman Mailer was born in 1923 in Long Branch, New Jersey, and grew up
in Brooklyn, New York. In 1955, he was one of the co-founders of The Village Voice. He is the author of more than thirty books, including The Naked and the Dead; The Armies of the Night, for which he won a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; The Executioner's Song, for which he won his second Pulitzer Prize; Harlot's Ghost; Oswald's Tale; and The Gospel According to the Son. He passed away on November 10, 2007.