For three decades, until the day he collapsed in the Brazilian surf in 1979, Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death who performed horrific experiments on the prisoners of Auschwitz, floated through South America in linen suits, keeping two steps ahead of Mossad agents, international police and the world’s journalists. In this researched factual novel—drawn almost entirely from historical documents—Olivier Guez traces Mengele’s footsteps through these years of flight.
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'.