Thursday, September 18, 2008

The i Tetralogy

The i Tetralogy
by Mathias B. Freese

(Hats Off Books / 1-587-36404-2 / 978-1-587-36404-4 / June 2005 / 380 pages / $26.95 / $20.48 Amazon)

Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for PODBRAM

“I am rectum.” With these words, you become the nameless “i” being processed at a Nazi death camp in part one of The i Tetralogy.
“I am Gunther.” With these words in part two of the novel, you become the guard who efficiently processes the Jews.

“MIN-E-OLA. An American Indian name, no doubt, for a long Island as bland as an ironing board. But here in my Cape Cod, built after the war by the GIs who destroyed the Reich, I have found a measure of security.” With these words you become the guard as an old man in the 1990s looking back on the wonders of his life in part three of Mathias B. Freese’s masterpiece.
“I HATE HIM. I HATE HIM. I HATE HIM.” With these words, you become Gunther’s son in search of truths about the Jews, the war, his father, and himself that he may or may not find between the lines of the last 78 pages of this book.

The i Tetralogy places the living, breathing and dying moments of people trapped within the Holocaust beneath a microscope powerful enough to bring every visceral urge, fear, motive and drop of blood into an IMAX-theater-sized view.

But make no mistake about it. While reading this novel, you are not viewing the Holocaust as a movie-goer or even as a reader: you are immersed in it and participating in it. Mentally, upon a shadowy sea of words, you are experiencing first hand a world outside boundaries of humanity as we understand it, or even want to understand it.

The unrelenting power of Freese’s writing calls to mind the gritty horror and hopelessness of Erich Maria Remarque’s World War I novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, and the grim insanity of Dalton Trumbo’s story about a wounded soldier in Johnny Got His Gun. Equally stark and eloquent, The i Tetralogy is written in the first person with a substantial amount of internal monologue. Both precise and beautiful, the prose cuts like a knife, laying bare the question: Where, if anywhere, is the meaning in the deadly embraces between prisoner and guard, guard and lover, guard and wife, guard and son, son and mother?

“We are dead men as it is, Izzy,” i tells a fellow prisoner. “I believe there is no explanation for all of this, for if I were given one, I would dismiss it out of hand. We should stop trying to juggle it into sense or some order, some meaning. It is meaningless— and even that gives it meaning.”

Gunther tells himself, “Here, in Anus Mundi, as one SS doctor calls it, I serve to kill Jews. Not a harsh thing to say or think, it’s a necessary thing to do. Not a harsh thing to feel, for it has nothing to do with feeling— or morality.
Years late, after he learns of his father’s role in World War II, Gunther’s son Conrad, tells himself, “Of the six million Jews, in fantasy I wish I could replace each one— die the individual, idiosyncratic, special, even holy death of each one. I wish to be disfigured, raped, shot in the neck, gassed, torched. But this is fantasy. It speaks of intent or good will, of higher motives and purposes. But to what avail?”

Psychotherapist Victor Frankl, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the why for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any how.”
Frankl’s 1946 book makes a strong case for the ultimate meaningfulness of every moment of life, including moments of suffering and depersonalization. Freese‘s novel throws the whole matter open to question, leaving you to decide for yourself whether or not i or Conrad or you concur.
Freese’s author’s note, “Raison d’Être,” is rather like a message in a bottle explaining how and why he wrote the book. “A close reading of The i Tetralogy, a substitution of the author’s name for i, Gunther, Karl, Conrad, Milly and Kurt,” he writes, “will reveal the suffering of the species individually lived.”

If you dare to walk or crawl 365 pages in these characters’ shoes, you will emerge at the merciful end of this novel changed by the agony that, as Freese suggests in his author’s note, made him aware.“ It is all too much, too much to bear— but bear it you must,” he says. “It is a part of human suffering— and human strength.”

If you read closely and bear each revolting moment, you may discover that through The i Tetralogy, you have found both meaning and catharsis.

Malcolm Campbell's March of Books
More About Mathias at Hats Off Books


KittyCat said...

Thanks for the review - this book is next on my list.

I'd read Mathias' first book "Down to a Sunless Sea", which is an insightful view through the minds and thoughts of disabled, troubled young boys.

Since "The i Tetralogy" is of a more personal nature, I'm prepared for some really painful pages. I read his note first and have a gut feeling what's ahead of me. Oh boy.


Sun Singer said...

It's powerful work, painful, addictive and perfect.

Thanks for checking out our review.