Cesare reaches a bleakly transcendent conclusion ... Uncompromising to the last, Charyn allows a surprising redemption that is swiftly punished ... Cesare’s clear-eyed tour of Nazi Germany’s moral contradictions and complexities acknowledges the truth in that statement. But it also acknowledges unlikely kindnesses and loyalties as tenacious as they are conflicted. And no matter how wrenching the subject, Charyn’s blunt, brilliantly crafted prose bubbles with the pleasure of nailing life to the page in just the right words. Cesare is by no means lightweight fare, but it’s provocative, stimulating and deeply satisfying.
The taut story line is full of surreal visuals and elaborate illusions, from Berlin’s Weisse Maus cabaret, reborn as a Gestapo club, to the purported Jewish cultural center at Theresienstadt. The toxic atmosphere distorts everyone’s nature, and if that’s not disturbing enough, there are too many superficially depicted, sex-obsessed female characters who enjoy physical abuse. Inventive, intense, and repellent in equal measure.
Mr. Charyn, who is now 82, writes with the sort of whirlwind energy that turns the seediest story into a breakneck adventure. Whole chapters seem to have been expelled in single exhalations, as though the author had the breath control of an opera tenor. It’s a dark art to make a subject this grotesque quite this much fun.
Often shocking and occasionally confounding, this darkly resonant novel is a dystopian rendering of World War II Germany on the cusp of its slow slide into defeat ... [a] convention-upturning tour de force ... Don’t pick up Cesare expecting a wartime thriller or an uplifting love intrigue, despite what its subtitle might promise. Charyn sets these and several other conventional formulas in play here, though hollowed-out and zombie-like, to push his story along. They’re intentionally alienating, in the Brechtian sense, and bleakly unsatisfying ... An underlying anger, a bitterness, drives this novel. And it’s entirely earned, as history has told us.
The 82-year-old Charyn's latest work in a distinguished career is subtitled 'a novel of war-torn Berlin,' but that doesn't begin to prepare readers for this edgy, hallucinatory, full-throttle fable. Cabaret, Moby-Dick, Shakespeare, Rosa Luxembourg, 'Jewish jazz' traveling executioners dubbed Hansel and Gretel, a hump-backed baron—they're all in the mix. A darkly entertaining, eye-opening novel.
... spectacular ... Charyn’s nuanced depiction of the bond between the eccentric Canaris and his protégé balances the novel’s many macabre moments, and the searing ending is a masterpiece of unsentimentalized tenderness. This extraordinary tour de force showcases the prolific author at the top of his game.