by Daniel Quinn
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Daniel Quinn sets his new novel, After Dachau, in what appears to be the near future. The twentieth century has just drawn to a close and Jason Tull, Jr. is working for an outfit based in Tunis which is trying to collect stories about reincarnation memories in the hope of discovering the "Golden Case" which demonstrates the truth of reincarnation. Jason may have found just such a case when Mallory Hastings wakes up from a coma and denies everything about the world in which she lives.
After Dachau is a difficult book to describe without giving a lot away, partly because of the nature of the novel, but mostly because so much of it is tied to a surprise which occurs halfway through. Quinn manages to turn everything the reader believed about Tull's world upside down in the most shocking way. Tull and Hastings's exploration into the truth of her existence turns into a deeper quest to discover the truth of the history of the world.
The novel does have a few problems. Both Tull and Hastings are a little too quick to believe the truth as the other person sees it, even when all the "facts" point to their own delusions or understandings of events. However their acceptance is done in order for Quinn to address the more serious question of history. This isn't a matter of whether or not the winners write the history as it is of questioning whether individual events in history actually matter in the long term.
Native Americans were practically wiped out by incursions from Europeans, and those remaining have, at various times, launched movements to have their loss of lands and rights redressed. Had the Europeans actually committed genocide and wiped out all of the Native Americans, would there be anyone to actually speak for the Native American's rights? Quinn takes this scenario to an extreme in his world which looks so much like ours until he explains a few major differences.
While Quinn's message is powerful, his scenario for the novel comes across contrived. Too many of Jason's actions are based on the necessities of the plot and the argument than on the character Quinn creates and, more importantly, on the society in which Jason grew up.
After Dachau raises many interesting points about history and people's willingness to believe or disbelieve things they have been taught. From a philosophical point of view, After Dachau works quite well, although the characters do not act believably from a sociological point of view. Quinn has produced a novel which is much more open to intellectual reflection than it is to enjoyment of characters or plot.
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