Omega Minor Paperback – Nov 1 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
A sprawling take on the dark legacies of WWII and its aftermath, Verhaeghen's debut follows three main characters: Paul Andermans, a Flemish postdoctoral student in Potsdam in 1995; the shadowy Goldfarb, a German nuclear scientist who now teaches at Andermans's university; and Jozef De Heer, who survived the Holocaust to live a meek existence in reunited 1995 Germany. The book unfolds as De Heer tells his life story to Andermans when the two meet by chance at a local hospital. The book's central conundrum is how De Heer's life as a survivor and refugee relates to that of Goldfarb, who plays a key role, as the narrative shifts 50-plus years backward, in the Manhattan Project and resulting arms race. But Verhaeghen is also after something much bigger: the nature of complicity in the 20th century's grim history. De Heer's Holocaust material has less gravitas than nonfiction accounts, but Verhaeghen's relentless verbal fireworks (lots of alliteration and rhyme) and comic touches (a children's magician masterminds the Berlin Wall's speedy construction) lighten things. As De Heer's and Goldfarb's lives further intertwine, the novel strains to tie together loose ends, but the big convoluted twists and outlandish ending may be part of the point. This is an ambitious, epic literary debut, and it's not surprising that Verhaeghen, in trying to orchestrate a familiar epoch, falls short of Gravity's Rainbow and Underworld. (Nov.)
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this is an uncommonly intellectually stretching- and satisfying - experience' -Matt Thorne, The IndependentSee all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The subjective, compromised historical accounts in the novel continuously thwart the reader's need to moralize and synthesize. One of the narrative threads audaciously deconstructs the "sanctified literary genre" of the Holocaust memoir, arguing that its cool, objective testimony, the "Style," grants the reader an undeserved identification with the victim and a false moral distance. The survivor De Beer's tale is told to Verhaeghen's own narrative proxy, the psychology student "Paul," and their tempestuous author-reader relationship elevates awareness of our own participation in smug historical distancing.
The thematic device that ties together the plot threads is the concept of dark matter, signified in Einstein's equations by the Omega symbol. Competing theories of dark matter's make-up, either as Massive Astrophysical Compact Halo Objects (MACHOs) or Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) provide an elegant metaphor for history: we are continually pulled into the orbit of big ideas, but we are ultimately alone on the journey and trapped by our own subjectivity.
Veraeghen's physics-history amalgamation raises obvious comparisons to Pynchon, a debt that the novel pays in a sly tribute: in one scene a woman dances to a ramshackle band "as if Benny Goodman were playing and not some poor man's orchestra led by Pig Bodine" - a reference to Pynchon's recurring character. But Verhaeghen's creation is unique, a totalizing experience of the last century's worst moments and of our own sad efforts to make sense of them. At one point De Beer suggests that a story can be "an axe to decapitate any happiness that is too-good-to-be-true," and what higher purpose can a novel serve than to take that axe to history?