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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 21 July 2017
We begin with the novel narrated in the first person by one Dieter, who introduces himself as a former intelligence office in the S.S. He had been tasked by Henreich Himmler to look into the family history of their Fuhrer – Adolf Hitler, to investigate reports of his illegitimacy. He was also to uncover evidence for incest, as Himmler had some odd theory that the offspring of incestuous relationships very often possessed unique qualities – which could well indeed be applied to the character of Hitler. All fairly regular so far. However, Dieter is not quite what he seems, for we are quickly informed that he has also worked for the Devil (or the Evil One as he is more usually known) for a number of centuries and had been tasked to keep a close eye on the young Hitler and his family in the last years of the nineteenth century as Adolf grew up in Austria, as he had been earmarked has having great potential for causing a great deal of trouble in the world. Thus we see Hitler’s domestic environment in close detail, to see the essential influences that made him the dreadful man he became.

There are a couple of lengthy interruptions to the main narrative which appear to be slightly self-indulgent by Mailer, and the ending seems to be rather sudden and unresolved. The title is also a bit of a mystery, which is not really adequately explained at the end of the novel.
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on 17 August 2008
The Castle in the Forest is a book about Adolf Hitler's family. It starts out almost as a documentary, when the narrator, who at first tells us he is an SS-officer, is sent to Spital in Austria in the 1930's to investigate Adolf Hitler's ancestry. Once the story of the family starts, the style shifts to that of a very readable novel, though the first chapters are so full of incest, that it is a bit disgusting.

Even though I enjoyed the book most of the time, I came out feeling a bit disappointed. I picked up this book because I was very curious what Norman Mailer would write about Adolf Hitler and the person he became. It promised to be a revealing novel, but it was only an account of one of the theories about Hitler's ancestry in which the protagonist was Hitler's father Alois.
Also, the hand of the supernatural was ever present in the lives of the Hitlers and it can hardly be plausible to conclude that the interference of the devil was the possible cause for Hitler's hatred and the atrocities he came to commit when he was in power. Perhaps the book has not been correctly presented as the synopsis promises that the author would `respond to these and other crucial aspects of Hitler's personality'. I don't know what Mailer's intention with this book was, but it couldn't possibly be an explanation of Hitler's personality. So what was the point Mailer was trying to make? Whatever that was, I didn't get it.

I also regret that despite the outstanding writing skills of the author, and the fact that I found the novel intriguing, sometimes I found it hard to enjoy it because no matter what I read about the family, I could not set aside my feelings about Hitler and the monstrosities he committed. I could not seem to overcome the repulsion to really enjoy this work of fiction.
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on 24 August 2009
I didn't quite know what to make of this book after a few chapters, but persisting with it, I found it compulsive reading. You do have to remind yourself that it is a novel, as, apart from the narrator's explanations of his own role, it reads like a biography of the Hitler family - mainly his father Aloyes- up until Adolf's early adolescence. Norman Mailer really explores in perhaps the only way you can - a novel - as the history will never explain it - some of the background to why Hitler thought and acted the way he did. It doesn't go for the usual psychoanalytical approach, and a great deal of what actually was significant is left for the reader to determine. But the skill of the writer is that he does draw you in (I was fascinated by Hitler's father's "lectures" on bees), and you find yourself trying to piece it together. As one of Hitler's secretaries said in her memoirs, you can't reconcile the charming man with the monster that was Hitler no matter how hard you try. This is not an easy novel to read, but it rewards effort, and I think in time to come, that this might be seen as a book to rival his previous best.
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on 28 February 2007
There are those that suggest merely to look at a childhood photograph of Adolf Hitler is sacrilege. It is to search for innocence within the pale blue eyes, and from that comes a journey of reasoning and justification for later events.

Norman Mailer isn't a subscriber to such censorship, having entered Hitler's bloodline two generations before young Adi was born in 1889, and then sticking with the future Nazi leader's formative childhood years, in the narrative of his new book. What we find is a stinking cess pool of incest, petty thuggery, piety and rage - and that's well before the cataclysmic events described when Adolf is conceived by Alois Hitler and his wife, 'daughter' and niece, Klara.

The book begins with narrator DT introducing himself as an SS officer in 1930s Germany, but later identifying himself as a spirit agent of the Devil. Inspired by faded photographs and an extensive bibliography, Mailer lets his incredible, base imagination run wild from the 19th century Austrian `farmhouse trash' through to Adolf's adolescence.

However, Mailer, and DT, are far too cute to exaggerate any particular experiences that sealed Adolf's fate, and there is nothing to suggest he is the son of the Devil, as others have interpreted.

Adolf's early childhood is very normal, but he is skilfully manipulated by the devil in his mind to take the very worst from each incident - whether that be a beating, a slur from his parents, his pompous father's worries over being down in a deal or a school lesson on the Teutonic knights.

By the close, Adolf is in his teens and sexually aroused over his involvement in the death of both his younger brother and father. The devil is proud of his this fantastic tapestry of evil and filth he has created. It is a skill Mailer shares.
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on 3 July 2013
Quite disappointed with this the last of Norman Mailer's novels before he died. Not one of his best. Clearly he had lost it by this time.

I was expecting more about Adolf Hitler and his origins and where all the evil came from, but so much of it was on his parents, grandparents and others. We learn a bit about Adolf -- he was part-Jewish, had only one testicle, a failed artist. But frankly the book was not worth reading. I'd pass on it if you are thinking of reading it.
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Norman Mailer was born in 1923 and published his first book, The Naked and the Dead, in 1948. The Armies of the Night won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1969; Mailer received another Pulitzer in 1980 for The Executioner's Song. He lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Brooklyn, New York.

Perhaps only someone of Norman Mailer's stature in the literary world could take on the task of writing such a book, even though it is a work of fiction. Initially I had to steel myself to read it. Hannibal, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, I can read avidly about them all, as they are from the dim and distant past. But to read about Adolf Hitler a man who was still alive in my early childhood, the man who killed my father-in-law and many other brave men and women like him, as surely as if he had pulled the trigger himself, seemed almost sacrilegious. Why would I want to read about the man, who above all others in world history, both ancient and modern caused the deaths of countless thousands of people for no other reason than is own psychotic delusions of greatness as the leader of what he hoped would be a master race.

As I started the book I still had my doubts about whether I really wanted to read it. I was worried that the book would tend to glorify the man, simply by its existence, but by the time I had read forty or fifty pages I was hooked and it had become a must read, a book I could not put down. The book sets out to explore the evil of the most cruel man the world has ever known. Narrated by a mysterious SS man the story gives us young Adolf, from birth. Also the lives of his father and mother and his sisters and brothers. It also gives the intimate details of his childhood and adolescence. The book gives an insight into the struggle of good and evil that exists in all of us.
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on 21 August 2015
I'm a longtime fan of Mailers' work so I'm biased, but what's not to like about this tale of demonic possession and the early life of A Hitler? A fine concept well executed by a true master of american prose. I'd pay to read a shopping list by this author who is much missed. Did I mention I'm biased?
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on 11 October 2008
I regard Norman Mailer very highly. His prose style is authorative and carefully chosen for affect. One feels the craft of countless hours of reflection and experience as descriptions and human enigmas are etched. However, I often feel at the end of his novels that something is missing or that I have missed the esential ingredient. It is frustrating.

This novel is ambitious in its approach to the near mythical origins of Hitler. Mailer successfully portrays the family as full of the normal frailities that may well have been prevalent in this part of Austria at this time - incest, violence, small ambitions, the heartbreak of infant mortality. Throughout, Alois Hitler, Adolf's father, is uppermost. Through his exploits and musings, we gain more of an insight into the times than we do a putative rationale for the adult Hitler.

The choice of narrator is also fascinating, providing an interesting aside on the battle between good and evil. I recommend this book as long as the reader is not expecting existential truths about Hitler. It is thought provoking and a fitting finale for Mailer's talents.
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on 26 March 2008
A strange book about the Hitler/Heidler/Schicklgruber family and an imagined supernatural guidance on the early development of AH. Not so much an examination of the nature of evil as an entirely fanciful imagining of what evil might be. I found this book unsatifying and, for me, it seemed to stop in mid air - think I must have missed something.
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Norman Mailer was born in 1923 and published his first book, The Naked and the Dead, in 1948. The Armies of the Night won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1969; Mailer received another Pulitzer in 1980 for The Executioner's Song. He lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Brooklyn, New York.

Perhaps only someone of Norman Mailer's stature in the literary world could take on the task of writing such a book, even though it is a work of fiction. Initially I had to steel myself to read it. Hannibal, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, I can read avidly about them all, as they are from the dim and distant past. But to read about Adolf Hitler a man who was still alive in my early childhood, the man who killed my father-in-law and many other brave men and women like him, as surely as if he had pulled the trigger himself, seemed almost sacrilegious. Why would I want to read about the man, who above all others in world history, both ancient and modern caused the deaths of countless thousands of people for no other reason than is own psychotic delusions of greatness as the leader of what he hoped would be a master race.

As I started the book I still had my doubts about whether I really wanted to read it. I was worried that the book would tend to glorify the man, simply by its existence, but by the time I had read forty or fifty pages I was hooked and it had become a must read, a book I could not put down. The book sets out to explore the evil of the most cruel man the world has ever known. Narrated by a mysterious SS man the story gives us young Adolf, from birth. Also the lives of his father and mother and his sisters and brothers. It also gives the intimate details of his childhood and adolescence. The book gives an insight into the struggle of good and evil that exists in all of us.
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