I remember very well the first time I learned about Hitler and what happened to the Jewish people under the rule of Nazi Germany. My teacher taught us that Hitler wanted to create a pure race and to me at that time, Aryan meant blond haired and blue eyed. I was very relieved when he said that. I was certain that me and my family would have been safe from the tortuous concentration camps. Reading The i Tetralogy brought those thoughts back to the surface. I had never considered what it might have meant to be one of Hitler’s chosen. As a child I only felt better knowing that we wouldn’t have been tortured. I never gave any thought to what it would have been like to look the other way or, perhaps worse, to become the torturer.
The i Tetralogy is a fictional account of the Holocaust and its impact from four points of view: a nameless Jewish man enslaved in a concentration camp (seems to be Auschwitz), from Gunther, one of the lead “untersturmfuhrer” of the same concentration camp, from Gunther living in the United States at the end of his life, and finally from Conrad, Gunther’s son born after WWII ended. It is a vicious web that allows no one to escape unscathed.
In graduate school I took a Literature of the Holocaust class and it was one of the most profound of my life. The work covered in that class was mainly autobiographical and focused on such works as The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi, Night by Elie Wiesel, and This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman by Tadeusz Borowski. We also read Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman. For me, Primo Levi’s work was the most difficult, emotionally painful, yet precious to read (if this makes sense). The i Tetralogy reminded me of that experience and amplified it. In it Freese said those things that were left unsaid by the survivors.
Freese, as I discovered while reading Down to a Sunless Sea, is a talented writer. The passion he poured into this novel is clear. It was a difficult book for me to finish. Over the week it took me to read this novel, my anxiety level rose steadily. My jaws would be so sore when I woke up in the morning and I found them clenching for no reason throughout the day. My physical reaction is a testament to the power of the experience. The i Tetralogy would not have worked if it were written by a lesser author.
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