Good People – a new novel by Nir Baram
Good People is a wide-embracing novel that takes place during World War II. Its protagonists are members of the well-educated bourgeoisie, who sit behind their desks. The main character is Thomas Heiselberg, a Berlin advertiser, who is resolved to become a great man. As a result, he finds his way and status in Nazi bureaucracy.
From the book:
Through the window he saw her covered in a mink coat which she was wearing when she left that house for the last time. She did not leave voluntarily, the world outside had offered her nothing. But they could no longer afford to employ her. They let her go, giving her a gift, the white fur coat, which had meanwhile turned gray. Leaving is an opportunity for rebirth: maybe something would happen, maybe there would be another job, perhaps the loneliness would break somewhat.
She drew nearer, walking with small steps – she had gained some weight, Mrs. Stein – steps that almost said, “don’t look, there’s nothing to see here.” That’s the cunning of history for you, the latest events in Berlin gave the Jews good reason to seek a hiding place among the shadows.
His eyes reviewed the uncovered parts of her body: the flattened face that turned red in the cold windy air, the delicate neck whose glory was always in brutal contrast with the short body, a kind of nucleus of beauty that under other circumstances could have blossomed. Her loneliness was absolute, that was clear. He had no doubts that apart from business matters she had spoke to no one over past few years.
A car pulled up near to her. Two men were sitting in the front seat. She did not look at them, but every inch of her body oozed awareness of their presence. In a hasty movement she brushed aside a gray curl that fell on her forehead, and walked slowly behind the stone fence. Thomas followed the car until it disappeared among the other cars on the street. A minute later Mrs. Stein came back and he thought she had noticed his face in the window.
After she left his mother seemed in mourning; Mrs. Stein was one of them, she filled the gaps between them – the sister his mother never had, for example – until they accepted the fact that his mother had no sister, and fired her. Ultimately, when the annual allowance she inherited from his mother dwindled due to the blow of the inflation, and their existence was endangered, blood was thicker than water, and that was the end of the affair.
A knock on the door. “Hello, Frau Stein,” Thomas said. She nodded and her stern look knocked him aside. For a split second their eyes met: the years had not diluted the animosity. For a moment he enjoyed her shame, the one that was written about in the paper, and in the book of laws, and on the billboards. From close up, he noticed its traces: Mrs. Stein’s face disclosed a tortured storm. The soul, just like the bent-over body, was awaiting another blow. As one who knew every corner of the house, she hurried down the dark corridor and disappeared into the bedroom of her mistress. For a while he remained frozen near the door and then quickly followed her. She is conspiring, that was clear.
Published on Ynet, 18.3.2010