The One Man: A Novel-Andrew Gross, author; Edouardo Ballerini, narrator
A young Jewish man escapes from Nazi occupied Poland and resettles in America. He discovers that his entire family has been wiped out by Hitler and is consumed with guilt because he escaped, while they did not. When he is asked to volunteer for a very dangerous “top secret” mission, he believes it will be an opportunity to redeem himself, and he agrees. Franklin Delano Roosevelt has personally thanked him for accepting this assignment.
Nathan Blum is tasked with sneaking into Oswiecim, in Poland in order to secretly enter the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. The Americans want him to extract a scientist, Alfred Mendl. He is a physicist who might be able to help them develop the atom bomb before the Germans succeed in the same effort. A qualified team has already been assembled, and he is the final missing piece. Essentially, it sounds like a suicide mission because no one who enters Auschwitz ever leaves alive, let alone
Blum is dropped into a forest in Poland and secretly joins a work force when it returns to the camp. He has three days to complete the mission. He witnessed, first hand, the terrible suffering of the prisoners and the almost impossibility of surviving in the brutal environment of the camp. Hitler’s minions were sadists who had no compunction about inflicting pain or death.
Into this mix came a romance that was difficult to believe, between the Commandant’s wife and a teenaged boy, Leo. Leo was a fabulous chess player and was gifted with a fantastic memory. He happened to be the camp chess champion. The Commandant’s wife was a lover of chess and soon had him brought to her home for afternoon matches. An unusual friendship developed. When Mendl discovered Leo’s ability to memorize everything, he decided to teach him his formulas. The Nazis had destroyed his work, not realizing its importance. He wanted Leo to commit all of his formulas on fusion to memory. They had destroyed his notes and this was his only way to preserve them.
When Blum found Mendl, which was difficult to believe since the inmates did not answer to a name, but instead to a number, he attempted to explain his mission to him. Mendl had some trepidation about the plan; he did not want to agree. When he finally did, he had one condition. He would only go if he could take Leo with him. The ensuing conversation turned the tide of the escape because when Nathan made a shocking discovery, he was reminded of Mendl’s words. He had asked Blum about what type of person would leave their flesh and blood behind while saving themselves. Blum was faced with a huge predicament.
The book took a bit too much melodrama. The excessive number of twists and turns made it tedious much of the time. The author seemed to be trying to create far too much tension. Every time the reader thought a turning point had been reached, something would happen to stall the momentum. An incredible tangent might be created or another near miss would occur that prevented the successful completion of the task. In the end, there were simply too many diversions in the book for the pace to remain steady. After awhile, it did not feel authentic because even a minor student of history would be aware of the horrors of the Holocaust and its eventual outcome. Creating a fiction around it that seemed implausible simply didn’t work that well. The reader would know that it could never happen the way it was presented. In addition, the plan seemed to be doomed to fail because no one could cheat death so many times during that period in history. It was luck that kept some people alive, but when would luck eventually run out? The only thing that really kept me interested was the question of Bloom’s success or failure, but it took too long to get there.