The book manages to provide both the guilty pleasures of a fast-paced violent pulp and the more thoughtful moral depth of a genuine engagement with what the camps meant ... Like Tarantino, Tidhar may find that some people don't take him seriously. But the joke's on them. Seriousness is the least of it: A Man Lies Dreaming is a twisted masterpiece.
Despite its dark subject, Man Lies Dreaming can be very funny, as in a scene where Wolf runs into Leni Riefenstahl, who is starring in an unlikely sequel to The Great Gatsby. It is also remarkably poignant ... Set during the election of a demagogue who battens on the fears of an underemployed populace threatened by thousands of foreign-born refugees, A Man Lies Dreaming feels disturbingly prescient. Tidhar holds up a mirror not just to Wolf, but to ourselves.
It would be easy to dismiss this novel, which comes bearing high praise from British reviewers, as an affront to good taste, but that would be to play into its hands. Better, it seems to me, to say that there is something too easy about its provocations, too unearned about its shock effects. [Tidhar] certainly knows his Holocaust, but the uses to which he has put his knowledge are of questionable value, suggestive of little that is enlightening about that catastrophe or the mad genius who set it in motion.
The interplay between the two storylines grows profound as they progress. Wolf's investigations take bizarre, grotesque, blackly comedic turns while Shomer's horrific existence grows symbolic — and then something magically more than symbolic — when the SS assigns him the task of making doors ... Tidhar tightropes between fantasy, farce, and historical fiction, all while grounding things in brisk, gritty noir.
No one can accuse Lavie Tidhar of being risk-averse ... Tidhar reveals...that he’s really less interested in the mechanistic ‘what-ifs’ of conventional alternate history than he is in the interpenetration of real and invented histories, or perhaps more grandiosely in the interpenetration of art and life – even the often-demeaned art of sensational fiction or...comic books. This is what makes him such an interesting writer, and what makes A Man Lies Dreaming quite a bit more complex than it at first appears ... Not that Tidhar doesn’t work out his alternate 1939 with meticulous and sometimes gleeful detail ... the novel is not without a fair amount of humor, and that might well be the boldest risk Tidhar is taking here ... can you effectively pulpify a figure associated with real-world terror without risking trivializing the nature of that terror? There is no shortage of SF and fantasy dealing with Hitler and the Holocaust ... But there are far fewer works which present Hitler as such an utter failure...the suggestion that finally emerges from A Man Lies Dreaming is that, even with Hitler reduced to a pulp antihero, if only in the dreams of an Auschwitz victim, anti-Semitism would have found a lot of other places to land. What really haunts the novel is not the ghost of Hitler, but that dreaming figure, borrowed more closely from our own history than from Tidhar’s fake one, and the disarming shadow of an anti-Semitic fascist regime emerging in England itself in 1939.
The story isn’t for the weak of heart: Tidhar/Shomer revels in describing Wolf’s sexual proclivities, and at least one torture scene won’t be easy for readers to forget. But though at times the narrative feels almost farcical, Shomer’s presence imbues it with unexpected weight, resulting in an ending that is more gut punch than punch line. A wholly original Holocaust story: as outlandish as it is poignant.