Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Nicolas d'Estienne d'Orves - Orphans of Evil

French cover
Portuguese cover
Comment: This was a book I borrowed from the person who used to let me
borrow books (in our language, Portuguese) she thought I might like. For several months and now because of the virus, we had not exchanged books but recently she saw me and gave me this one to try, since it would be focusing on some WWII themes, something I tend to like in historical fiction.

I found no English translation but basically this is a story of two people who are investigating the Nazi attempts to breed babies who would be part of the new Aryan race, once what was Germany would win the war. The title can be translated into »orphans of evil», following the french original and other translations.
The main male protagonist, 60 something Vidkun, wants to know the truth behind this and its main architect Otto Rahn and how that might be connected to his own life, since he had been adopted by a German family.
The main female protagonist is Anais, a young woman in her 20s who is the reporter hired to write a non fiction book on the whole thing.

This theme sounds kind of interesting, especially because WWII has left the world with the morbid curiosity of the things Nazis did thinking (or pretending) they were going to save Germany.
Although most knowledge, fiction and non fiction seem to be focused on political issues and what kind of horrors happened at the concentration camps, the Nazi regime had the time to broaden its clutches into several subjects, such as the one this book, apparently, would presents is with. At least, I thought so.

In reality, though, I found this book to be a little misleading. This is mostly a mystery with some thriller moments in there, no real romance  - so romance readers don't get your hopes high -, but the actual investigation isn't really centered on the breeding and how that was done, or what kind of impact it had on mothers, babies, nurses. I expected the story to also counterbalance what was certainly going to be hard to read about with the emotional connection we could still have with the characters.

Actually, the book is about the investigation, the red herrings, the whos and whys of the whole thing, several Nazi figures make an appearance, there's the personal lives of the main characters, there's the connection between secondary characters.... I mean, there's a lot.
The author being French - and comparing to other contemporary French authors I've read - lets himself get too wrapped up in his own ideas, a kind of dreamy and vague quality I associate with French authors, which means the story becomes confusing, all over the place and I was easily distracted by the different directions this was going.
(Of course this is an impression, not a critic of French authors as a whole since I haven't read all French authors out there)

At the same time we have the main plot developing, we have alternate chapters with situations in other moments in time, so we can check what matters by the POV of the character that was going through it. It does make sense while we read but... it's not as much about he breeding program or those victimized by it. In fact, the focus is how that came to be and what secrets were behind the whole thing. Sure, this is interesting, but the whole book on it, while the reader has to little step by little step learn what the "bad guys" did to ensure the secret was kept... I wasn't that fun after a few chapters.

The final pages offer explanations which I found too complicated to add to what I had been told (this plot is rather confusing, I said) so I kept thinking "wait, this guy was that guy", "this person was there at what time exactly?" and so on) and the last scenes very... vague, again.
It was a little disappointing.
The method to breed babies in the past (meaning during WWII) was awful, of course, by how the people involved had been brainwashed and forced to it and the repercussions to the children and mothers if the children weren't as perfect as expected.

But the end of this book gives us, besides a climax to the whole mystery and secrets, also a new breeding program on contemporary times and it's something out of science fiction. Really, super weird, shocking too but completely out of sync with the rest of the story. I assume it was there for shock factor and to explain a plot that was going nowhere. Like and add-on to finish the novel with the sense evil is out there, after years, even after the bad events of the Nazism golden era are finally in the past.

All in all, this was intriguing at first, confusing and vague then and ends with a weird sci-fi bang.
The character development is basic and lacks real depth. The prose is readable but not captivating and structured in a way I'd say is cohesive. Oh well, it was entertaining at least.
Grade: 5/10

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