Paul Beatty on “The Nazi and the Barber”

"The Nazi and the Barber" by Edgar Hilsenrath
Original Air Date: 
May 03, 2015
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Paul Beatty, the Booker Prize Winning Author of “The Sellout" recommends "The Nazi and the Barber,” a novel by Holocaust survivor Edgar Hilsenrath. The book was banned in Germany for years because of its sympathetic portrayal of a Nazi death camp guard.

Paul Beatty: The book I want to talk about...I don't know if I could recommend it in good faith...but it's a book I can't stop thinking about. It's called the "Nazi and the Barber" by a guy named Edgar Hilsenrath.

And it's a book that was banned in Germany. I think the book came out in the early 70s and it was banned for like 20 years because it looks at the Holocaust from the point of view of a guy who was a prison guard at a concentration camp.

If I like the book, but I can't stop thinking about the book because of the crazy questions that it's asked, the way that it treats the evilness that people bring to bear and all kinds of ways, the way we forgive them and don't forgive them it's just it's a book that really just sits on your chest and it just won't get off my chest.

So I mean it's an easy book to read and say "oh you know, there's no culpability for a crime like that." I think it's easy to read that. You know I could see being German and reading that book and saying "ah, see? We're not responsible." And the book's not saying that at all.

The book is also not saying that the victims are responsible. But it's asking that question about culpability, about responsibility, about forgiveness.

I don't want to talk about the book without giving it away, but where identity is useful, where it's not useful, how it meshes, how we see people. It's just it's just a bizarre, bizarre book.

I'm not religious at all, but the Holocaust — I mean religion is obviously a part of that on some level. And it just talks about where true power lies.

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