Short Review of Heidegger's Glasses, by Thaisa Frank
I was very honored to have received an email from the author of Heidegger's Glasses, Thaisa Frank, thanking me for the following review. It was a pleasure to know that she and her editor both read it and took time to let me know.
Heidegger's Glasses, by Thaisa Frank
When I decided to read Heidegger's Glasses, by Thaisa Frank, it was not due to anything I had heard or read about the novel. In fact, it was purely to please my husband. My husband is a philosophy professor and he often studies Martin Heidegger in his spare time (I know - I chuckle at that too). I sometimes ask him to suggest reading material so we can perhaps converse on some level playing field. As a Comparative Literature major in college, I read my fair share of philosophy, Heidegger's essay The Question Concerning Technology being one of them. That was over ten years ago, and Heidegger is no cake walk. But in searching through the free books available on my Kindle, I found Thaisa Frank's novel. (Kindle will often provide a book for free and a week letter, sell it again at the publisher's price. Whether or not the book is free has no bearing on the quality of the work, because if you're itching to know what I thought of it, the quick answer is: I loved it). Though the playing field my husband and I were on catered to two sports: thick and sticky philosophical inquiry versus romantic, melancholy, heart felt fiction, Heidegger makes an appearance. And when it comes to Heidegger and this stay-at-home mom, that's level enough for me!
- Thaisa Frank
Author of several books, including Heidegger's Glasses and Finding Your Writer's Voice.
The novel is set in an underground mine-cum-compound in World War II Germany, shortly after the Nazis lost Stalingrad. In the compound are roughly 60 scribes. The scribes are made up of all nationalities of deportees who were rescued at the last minute by their linguistic talents, overheard by an SS officer as they spoke or prayed in a language other than their primary language (for instance, a German woman speaking in French, or a Polish woman speaking in Danish, etc.). Their task, based on Hitler's belief in the occult and the power of the dead, is to reply to letters written by those sent to the camps. It is known amongst them all that the people to whom they are writing the letters are, in all likelihood, dead. It does not matter. Goebbels was told that unless the letter writers received replies, the world would be sad and in ruins. They needed replies to please the dead and win the war.
The main character is Elie Schacten, a woman who exchanges flirtation, seduction, kisses and caresses to bring food, clothing and supplies to the scribes, and help refugees escape death, all the while writing in a red notebook that nobody can read.
Where does Heidegger come in? Elie receives a letter from Goebbels. The letter was written by Martin Heidegger to his friend and optometrist, Asher, not only asking for a new pair of glasses that Asher was working on for him, but expressing a singular thought that came to him when he was holding his old pair. Readers of Heidegger will recognize the incident, but Thaisa Frank describes it before the novel begins. The problem is that Asher is at Auschwitz, and possibly already dead. But Heidegger, once a Nationalist supporter who has since fallen out of favor, is still important to the party. He is a well-known philosopher whose disappearance would raise questions. Disappointing him would also cause rancor. Despite their thinly veiled lies, even the Nazis know they can't fool a man like Heidegger. Therefore, Elie is instructed to find someone who can answer the strange letter as Asher would answer it. It is what Elie chooses to do with the letter that changes the Compound and the cracked shell of safety they have in it.
I read several passages to my husband, who said it was obvious that the author knew her stuff about Heidegger, whose philosophies were scattered throughout. Heidegger makes an appearance in the novel himself, conversing about paths (he also came across as a bit simple and easily fooled).
My Review - Wonderful
Written simply, interspersed with letters written by deportees as they arrive at the camps, Thaisa Frank's story is not sugar-coated or rampant with poetic sentences. Nor is it violent or harsh; rather, it is square , describing what and how it is. Her style is fantastic and well done, in that though the writing is bare and seemingly lacking in emotion, it is not. Her language is rich and moving, sharing a love story in an impossible situation. It reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Easy reading is damn hard writing."
There were many passages of the novel I shared with my online friends. One in particular, executed wonderfully by Frank, told me all I needed to know about living in such a war:
Elie and the officer with whom she's in love, are talking by a school desk set in the middle of the compound (the compound is eerie. It is meant to resemble a town, with a mechanical sun and moon, creaking and clanging their way across the "sky" at a certain hour each day). Elie has set the desk up in the town center. Lodenstein, the officer, writes their initials on the desk, along with "4:35. I love you."
We live in a world where teenagers and adults alike are forever carving school bleachers with "Wuz here 2010" and using magic marker in bathroom stalls to say "I love John forever! 2011" - writing the hour and minute strongly symbolized how precious their time was. Gestapo could storm the compound at any moment. They could be outside the compound as Elie and Lodenstein were holding hands, ready to enter. They could be in the surrounding woods, waiting for a head to peek outside the door...
Minutes . Not years.
She wrote a book that lived and breathed the way I imagine one had to in World War II Germany: in secret; fearful but desperate; courageous but hesitant; hopeful, but resigned, but not willing to be resigned. Masterfully done.
Tender. Haunting. Quiet and poignant. She wrote a wonderful book.
Unfortunately, to talk about this book with my husband, I'd either have to read some Heidegger, or he's going to have to read the novel and just tell me how they intersperse. I'm liking the latter... but stranger things have happened.
(I did not realize until I searched for an author's bio, but Thaisa Frank also co-wrote a book I own called Finding Your Writer's Voice. A great resource for a creative writer.)
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