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Book Review: Germania by Brendan McNally

by Jerome Weeks 11 Feb 2009 10:04 AM

Rogue’s Gallery: Principal Players in the Flensburg Reich Publisher’s Weekly review of Germania Edward Nawotka’s review in The Dallas Morning News Brigitte Frase’s review in the Los Angeles Times KERA radio review: Expanded online review: What is it with North Texas novelists making their debuts with really oddball thrillers? Four years ago, Will Clarke appeared […]


Rogue’s Gallery: Principal Players in the Flensburg Reich

  • KERA radio review:
  • Expanded online review:

What is it with North Texas novelists making their debuts with really oddball thrillers?

Four years ago, Will Clarke appeared with Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles. The novel combines terrorism, Dallas social satire and a Hindu apocalypse. It doesn’t always work, but Lord Vishnu surely ranks as one of the more amusing entertainments by a local writer.

Now comes Brendan McNally (below)with his first novel, Germania. Germania was Adolf Hitler’s name for his future world capital in Berlin. It’s a terrifically ironic title because McNally’s novel is about a German reich very few have ever heard of. Most histories of Nazi Germany end with the complete flameout of the final days in Berlin. They rarely handle what happened next.

A caretaker government was formed in a town called Flensburg. Its basic purpose was to hold on long enough to surrender to somebody. Instead of Hitler’s Thousand-Year Reich, Flensburg was the three-week Reich.

So far, so fascinating.

Writers such as Alan Furst and Philip Kerr have uncovered these kinds of nuggets to craft superb thrillers about World War II. McNally is a former defense journalist, so the military history is a natural for him.

Flensburg also provides a remarkable cast of desperate, real-life characters. Several scrambled to escape arrest for their war crimes. But simultaneously — even bizarrely — they also hoped to be proclaimed supreme leader of post-war Europe. One of these would-be leaders was Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and armaments expert. Another was Heinrich Himmler.

That’s right. The head of the SS actually believed the Allies wanted him to run Europe. Of course, Himmler was also daffy enough to use his massage therapist to try to arrange a peace treaty with Sweden.

All of this is completely true. But as dangerous and farcical as the Flensburg period was, McNally chooses to tell the story by inventing a vaudeville troupe of comic juggler-singer-gymnasts.

The Flying Magical Loerber Brothers. Before the war, they were beloved entertainers. But they’re secretly Jewish. And they disappoint their fans by mysteriously disappearing. It’s only in these last weeks as Germany falls into chaos that the four Loerbers pop back up in very different roles.

This is author Brendan McNally reading an excerpt from Germania:

MCNALLY: “Speer tried to remember what he could about the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers. Like everyone else, he’d seen them perform many times. Still, Speer had been largely bewildered by the Loerber brothers mania. He remembered all the photo and variety magazine covers. Some trademarked picture of their four identical faces arranged like a crescent moon. Which one is your favorite, it always asked. Which to Speer didn’t make any sense because they were all indistinguishable from each other. It was like having a favorite corner of a square building.”

The Loerber brothers are a quirky, sometimes jarring device for telling the Flensburg story. But they do lead to some marvelous, fictional moments – like when one Loerber teaches Albert Speer how to juggle.

It’s when McNally throws in psychic powers that things get out of hand. And get unnecessary. As I said, the Flensburg story is woolly enough as it is. No need for Germania to fall off the trapeze and land in the world of Marvel Comics.

But I confess that Germania – like Will Clarke’s Lord Vishnu – can hold your interest.The tonal shifts may distract, but the books are highly readable. I read them to the end wondering — what’s next?

Both Will Clarke and Brendan McNally wrote these thrillers while hanging out in local Starbucks. So perhaps there’s something in the coffee they serve around here.

  • EXCERPT from GERMANIA by Brendan McNally:

If the present is simply the intersecting point between past and future, then Flensburg was that unrepeatable circumstance where the two merely brushed against each other, like two party guests eyeing each other as they wait for an absent host to come and make the requisite introductions. And while the past stands solid and unalterable, and the future is but a swirling cloud of possibility, in Flensburg the opposite seemed to be the case. Here the future appeared fixed, bright and obvious, while the past was a murky shifting shadow, best not dwelled on, for its details seemed to change hourly.

And nowhere was optimism toward the future stronger than in the Donitz government [the Flensburg Reich, run by Grand Admiral Karl Donitz]. The fact that it continued to grow was all the proof some people needed to believe that they had put themselves on the ground floor of a very prospective enterprise. They began seeking more and better furniture, larger offices with more windows and all the other appurtenances with which to demonstrate their recovered status.

Those stranded in the past, on the other hand, found themselves searching frantically for something, anything, that might help them ascend. Some lobbied for the creation of an “inter-ministerial working group” to study undefined problems, others sought diplomatic passports, medical certificates, or, failing that, a few sheets of office letterhead, as a protection against Allied arrest.

Ziggy [one of the Loerber Brothers who has been working in the Flensburg government] witnessed all of this from his desk in the lobby outside the grand admiral’s office. He was feeling ragged from not having slept all night, but, buoyed by a cup of synthetic coffee and a cigarette, he once again assumed the character of a coldly efficient staff officer and awaited the stream of supplicants.

The first were four gauleiters [regional leaders of the Nazi Party], all of them fat as hippos, who waddled through the door in their brown-and-gold Nazi party uniforms. They announced that they needed to see the grand admiral on “a matter of national importance.” Ziggy asked them to explain. The four men traded nervous looks with each other: Should we? Shouldn’t we? The plane leaves tonight. We have to get the passports. But what about the money?

Then, to his horror, Ziggy realized that what he was hearing was their thoughts. Their telepathic roar hit him like vertigo.

Tell him we need to go to Spain? Tell him about the conference? Should we mention the meetings with Vargas and the Phalange? Should we? Dare we?

Ziggy hated mind reading. He hated the whole thing. Ten years ago he’d managed to shut it out and keep it out.

Spain … Swiss account number … Vargas … little contribution to the Phalange … Tonight at Kastrup … Copenhagen … Should we? Dare we? Ultimately, they dared not and left.

The outer door opened and in walked a short, blond-haired man Ziggy recognized from newsreels. “Alfred Rosenberg,” he announced drunkenly. “Please alert the grand admiral at once. This is a matter of extreme national importance!”

Rosenberg had been the Nazi Party’s racial theoretician and Reichsminister for the occupied eastern territories. But since the party no longer existed and there were no eastern territories left to occupy, Ziggy doubted Donitz would want to talk with him. He asked him to state the nature of his business. “I have come,” Rosenberg proclaimed, “to offer the grand admiral my services as theoretician! It is vitally important a conceptual framework be reestablished to ensure continuity with our racial identity.”

“I’m sorry, the grand admiral is very busy right now,” Ziggy said. “He asks that you submit any request first to the Allied Control Commission, whose offices are on the second floor.”

Rosenberg stared at him for a long time, then asked, “Do you like fine paintings? Flemish masters? Bruegel? Wouldn’t you just love to have one of your own?”