Friday, October 14, 2016

The Kaiser's Last Kiss by Alan Judd

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Edelweiss
Read: October 11, 2016

A fictionalised account of the Kaiser Wilhelm's last years in Nazi-occupied Holland.It is 1940 and the exiled Kaiser is living in Holland, at his palace Huis Doorn.The old German king spends his days chopping logs and musing on what might have been.When the Nazis invade Holland, the Kaiser's Dutch staff are replaced by SS guards, led by young, eager Untersturmfuhrer Krebbs, and an unlikely relationship develops between the king and his keeper. While they agree on the rightfulness of German expansion and on holding the country's Jewish population accountable for all ills, they disagree on the solutions. Krebbs's growing attraction and love affair with Akki, a Jewish maid in the house, further undermines his belief in Nazism. But as the tides of war roll around them, all three find themselves increasingly compromised and gravely at risk.This subtle, tender novel borrows heavily from real history and events, but remains a work of superlative, literary fiction.Through Judd's depiction of the Lear-like Kaiser and the softening of brutal Krebbs, the novel draws unique parallels between Germany at the turn of the 20th century and Hitler's Germany.

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Kaiser Wilhelm
Alan Judd’s The Kaiser’s Last Kiss demanded my attention the moment I stumbled over it on Edelweiss. I waited impatiently to see if I’d be granted a copy for review and jumped for joy when one came through. Few stories get me this excited, but I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the Kaiser, WWI and WWII and couldn’t help feeling giddy about a story that features elements of all three. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm distracted me from my usual routine and I failed to do my homework before diving into the narrative.

Had I bothered to look, I might have approached The Kaiser’s Last Kiss differently, but I didn’t and missed noting that I’ve read Judd before and wasn’t impressed with the result. I’d eyed Dancing with Eva for several months before acquiring a copy in 2013 and was bitterly disappointed when the execution failed to live up to my expectations. The pacing was sluggish and the characters stilted. The telling was anticlimactic and I remember being impressed with myself for not throwing the damned book at the wall.

Why is any of this important? Well let’s just say history repeats itself and while I found The Kaiser’s Last Kiss marginally better than its predecessor, I honestly feel that it suffers many of the same technical and structural difficulties. I found Krebbs and Akki woefully underdeveloped and the fact that I felt something off in each negatively underscored Judd’s primary plot twist. Much like I did with his earlier work, I finished this novel feeling distinctly unsatisfied with the central story and wishing I hadn’t invested my time in the narrative.

The story lacked punch and I didn’t warm to Krebbs or Akki, but I did note some fun historic detail in the politics of the narrative and I actually liked Judd’s interpretation of Kaiser Wilhelm. Judd’s characterization of the exiled monarch mirrors my own impressions and I found his scenes amusing despite my lack of interest in the rest of the story.

Would I recommend The Kaiser’s Last Kiss? Probably not. I don’t mean to turn anyone away from the novel, I don’t think it capitalized on the full potential of the subject matter and I wasn’t impressed with the fictional elements of the piece.

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“People fear that because I have lived in Holland for over twenty years I do not know what the German people are thinking. But I do. I know very well what the German people think because people tell me and because I understand them here... It is not war itself they seek, but they hunger for justice and war is the only way. So for this new war, they have, since 1918, been ready to march at once, to strangle the French. Well, now they are doing that but they cannot finish the job properly until they have driven Juda out of England, as they are driving them from the continent. The Jews and Anglo-American commercialism and materialism make it impossible for European peoples to live in decent peace and spiritual harmony. This war will be a divine judgment on Juda-England, you will see. That is why the soldiers of the Wehrmachtare here in Holland, Major van Houten. It is not against you or your country, and when the business is complete they will go. I promise you that."
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