CHILDREN OF THE DUSK
by Janet Berliner & George Guthridge
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Children of the Dusk is the third and final volume of Janet Berliner & George Guthridge's "Madagascar Manifesto" trilogy. Unlike Child of the Light, which is set entirely in Berlin, or Child of the Journey, which is set in Berlin and Nosy Mangabé, Children of the Dusk is set entirely on Madagascar. Although Berliner and Guthridge have very obviously researched Madagascar, their portrayal of the island does not come across as realistically as earlier portrayals of Berlin. This may be caused by the fact that once the action has moved to Madagascar, the authors have elected to increase the supernatural dosage, creating, not an historical Madagascar, but rather a fantastic island.
The time frame of Children of the Dusk is also the most compact, taking place entirely within the first few months of the German occupation of Nosy Mangabé. Led by Erich Alois (Weisser) from the earlier novels and his former hero, Otto Hempel, the Germans have been charged with creating a Jewish state. The initial group of 144 Jews includes Erich's old friend, Solomon Freund. Naturally enough, Erich also bring his pregnant wife, Miriam, along.
While Miriam and Solomon represent the good and the victimized, Berliner and Guthridge use Hempel and the Kapo, Plishdiner, to represent the ultimate in Nazi attrocities. Erich continues to waffle back and forth, trying to retain his humanity while being constantly subjected to the evils of his peers. Knowing that if he completely renounces that evil he will be unable to help Freund, who he still believes he wants to help, although it also is evident that his primary concerns are his own ambitions.
Berliner and Guthridge drop some of the themes and ideas which they played with in the earlier novels, most notably their examination of what makes a person Jewish. On the other hand, they do begin to look more at the concept of atonement. Because Erich is not as evil as Hempel or Plishdiner, there is the possibility that he may receive redemption by thwarting their plans, thereby making up for the evil he has done.
En route to his possible redemption, Erich must first learn the futility which his own victims face. To that end, he comes into frequent power struggles with Hempel over the proper way to run the camp. Some of these battles are won by Erich, some by Hempel, enough that Erich faces the real possibility of losing control of his command. To underscore the importance of this theme of atonement, the novel culminates on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
All of the characters suffer from a disassociated feel in Children of the Dusk. Solomon because he is segregated with the other Jewish prisoners, Miriam because she spends much of the novel in seclusion, dealing with the last stages of her pregnancy, and Erich because he has discovered that as commander of the expedition he is no longer a part of his canine unit and he is at odds with the other officers on the island.
The entire "Madagascar Manifest" is a well written series of books dealing with a wide range of issues surrounding the Holocaust and the Nazi rise to power in Depression era Germany. At times the authors fail to fully explore the some of the issues which they raise, but the important thing in this type of work is to realize the questions exist as legitimate philosophical lines of inquiry. Although enjoyable is not the word to describe this series, the books are very well-written and the story is compelling.
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