Mr. Guez has been praised in the French press for his meticulous research, and rightly so. His Mengele takes his place in a vividly detailed tableau of South American society, ensconced in a circle of fugitive Nazis that includes Adolf Eichmann. Mr. Guez illustrates over the course of the novel that the past doesn’t disappear, but it does have a half-life ... The work of this novel is to remind us of things we know but may lose sight of ... a work that underscores not the banality of evil but its brazenness ... Mr. Guez’s own propensity for the florid only heightens the effect. His is a book that keeps the reader in a state of outrage at both Mengele’s unrepentance and the moral poverty of his backers ... not really about remembering the horrors of Nazi atrocities. It is, rather, about the quotidian but crucial work of understanding the tenacious allure of Nazism to an ambitious, self-deluded man with few defenses against it ... Mr. Guez means to 'keep us on our guard' against the Mengeles of the world, those susceptible, malleable, advantage seekers who will always be among us.
... lean, unsparing ... Narrative nonfiction, especially concerning someone as heinous as Mengele, is a perilous exercise at the best of times. But Guez, a French journalist and the author of several books, has already earned his reader’s trust by the thoroughness of his documentation and research, which included traveling to the various South American countries where Mengele concealed himself after World War II ... a seamless translation ... [an] example of how powerful fiction can be at bringing us as close as possible to the workings of a fiendish mind.
Guez’s novel won the Prix Renaudot in his native France in 2017. Little wonder; it is a chilling tale, one that is impossible to forget. It shocks too — so many people knew, must have known, who Mengele was and where he lived, yet he escaped the hangman’s noose and Mossad’s bullet ... Guez’s novel cuts him down to size, showing him as a petulant, obsessive and petty man with 'a small, hard soul'.
Historical fiction fans looking for something with an edge shouldn’t miss The Disappearance of Josef Mengele. The painstaking research that went into its writing never shows on the page; this chilling fictionalized manhunt for the so-called Angel of Death during his years on the run in South America moves like a thriller but has the keen insight of biography.
... it’s often hard to disentangle the history from the fiction, which may be a marker of Guez’s success ... spare, engrossing ... Guez’s third-person narration tells the story mostly from Mengele’s point of view, which can be tough and unpleasant to inhabit. Occasionally, Guez offers slight relief by veering into the perspectives of other characters ... In South America, Mengele is sustained — sometimes enthusiastically but often barely and begrudgingly — by a network of unrepentant Nazis and Nazi sympathizers, fueled by funds from his prosperous family. Guez’s description of this insidious network, with its mix of true believers and opportunists, is one of the novel’s most interesting aspects ... Guez humanizes Mengele, perhaps controversially, by describing his love, or at least passion, for his wives, the second of whom was his brother’s widow. He also describes the doctor’s regard for his Brazilian housekeeper and his desire to justify himself to his son. In the end, though, the novel portrays Mengele as a thoroughly despicable character, who came to a miserable — if not miserable enough — end.
... a staid portrait of a monstrous man ... The tone changes as the years pass: there are moments of cold-blooded terror, scenes re-created from eyewitness accounts at Auschwitz and afterward, as well as understated passages involving Josef in hiding. Guez hews closely to the historical record, re-creating much of Mengele’s life from the letters, journals, and biographies of his subject and those around him, but the narrative is remarkably humdrum and slack. This is more for history buffs than fiction fans.