Friday, April 23, 2021

The Son and Heir: A Memoir by Alexander Münninghoff


I got this for World Book Day on Kindle! I'm kind of glad I did because it's not the sort of book I would normally gravitate to. THE SON AND THE HEIR is part memoir, part biography. In it, a famous Dutch journalist talks about his discovery that his father was a Nazi soldier in WWII and goes from there to talk about his family's rise and ultimate fall, revolving around his grandfather, the family patriarch around whom everything revolved. The author's father actually joined up with the Germans to spite his father, but Münninghoff delves deeper than that, talking about the complex relations in Europe during WWII, and how many of the countries were torn between fear of Hitler's growing power and fear of Russian annexation.

I can't imagine what a difficult book this was to write. Apparently, the author died a few months before it was published in English. His family's story is sad. It's ultimately a story about how war tears up families and ruins lives and how money drives wedges between what remains, sowing discord and grievances. When Alexander Münninghoff was named the family heir by his grandfather, both of his parents, now separated, fought over him pretty brutally.

The writing (and the translation) are crisp and at times, it feels incredibly impersonal. Maybe the author needed that distance to examine such painful subjects. There are themes of classism and xenophobia that give the book a really intensely claustrophobic feel that make it read like a nonfiction gothic. Towards the end, the pacing of it all got a little slow, but this was such a novel perspective on WWII and the recovering European economy and social structure that I found I didn't really mind. So far, this is my favorite book that I got from my World Book Day haul, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes books that plunge the dark side of "old world charm" or who enjoy learning about WWII.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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