Picks and Pans Review: Tales of the Master Race

updated 02/17/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/17/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Marcie Hershman

The ashes of Auschwitz have been picked over for half a century. But gifted artists will always find new things to say; the Holocaust is inexhaustible. In her outstanding debut, Hershman ventures back to the home front of post-Cabaret Germany. There, the citizens of the Third Reich bustle about their daily affairs. Marriages, flirtations, business dealings are the stuff of life; who can be bothered with the rumored brutalities of the Nazis or the fate of "non-Aryan" neighbors?

A woman in a rest home awakens from a stroke to discover that a group of Jewish children have disappeared from a nearby ward. She is disturbed—until her husband blandly explains it all away. In a small-town police station, a clerk is forced to measure the craniums of political dissidents about to be guillotined, as a way of making him an accomplice to the bloodshed. A mapmaker takes advantage of dual opportunities: His landlady's husband is off to war, and his Jewish employers have been dispossessed.

Hershman never raises her voice or wags a finger. Irony is her device, and it is strong enough to echo long after the last page is turned. Whirling to the seductive rhythms of sex, money and power, the members of Hitler's Master Race will realize too late that they have been stepping to the Totentanz: the suicidal dance of death. (HarperCollins, $20)

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