Meeting characters such as a "pistol-packing" Charlie Chaplin along the way, a Swiss filmmaker travels to Japan to make a film meant to aggrandize Nazi Germany while secretly in cahoots with Jewish critics to make an allegorical film that will warn the world of the horrors of the Third Reich.
...the novel’s echoes of real-world scandals of the silver screen are expertly disguised and entrenched, designed not to intrude on The Dead’s casual streaming toward historical inevitability, so much so that you wouldn’t know it until the book’s final pages ... Most of the above characters, save Nägeli, are key players in the real world run-up to the Second World War, but they’ve been notably elevated out of historical record and allowed to take up a set of personae that becomes shorthand for their agency as players in Kracht’s drama ... In short, The Dead chooses to linger rather than develop, prefers sometime-glacial close-third POV to action, and takes its time making sense of its daring premise ... The roominess of Kracht’s style, free-floating from his subjects, allows him indulgences unthinkable in a more straightforward novel, resulting in a product that seems like it was...as fun to write as it is to read ... The invisible language of film permeates the novel, an experiment in collapsing the history of film theory into prose, at least in Daniel Bowles wistful translation, that is neutral and shot through with so much darkness, you occasionally can’t find the light ... there is joy here for everyone, prose that astonishes, personal tragedies that mar the heart, and set pieces of outstanding oddness.
You don’t need to know classical Japanese theater for the unusual structure and tempo of The Dead to register, but Kracht decisively draws on Noh’s quirky structure—its tripartite form, with a meandering first part followed by a plot-quickening second and a swift resolution in the third. The novel is also inflected by its highly specific source history (especially the Mabuse-and-Murnau world of German cinema plumbed by Lotte Eisner and Siegfried Kracauer, both of whom are among the book’s significant characters) and its author’s penchant for meta-moments (the reader will eventually intuit that the text quite possibly coincides with a film titled The Dead) ... The Dead is marked by a deadpan archaizing style that in the original is frequently likened to a ventriloquized Thomas Mann ... The Dead is at times mildly and surprisingly humane ... The Dead shows the manifold ways that truism unites his characters’ sad sagas, as well as the medium that brings them back to life.
Framed by two highly aestheticized death scenes that balance precariously between real and unreal, the book is structured more by its images and digressions than by its nominal plot. Even the details snatched from history seem dreamlike ... for Kracht’s characters, even the merest nap can have a cinematic quality ... In Kracht’s novel, the politics of sleep are ambiguous, and everyone’s inner life (except perhaps Chaplin’s) involves a dreamy floating punctuated by bursts of real or imagined violence.