It’s WWII Nazi Germany. Toward the end of the war, the Nazi generals are desperate, but don’t want anyone to know. Some of them have taken to visiting mediums; this gives them the idea that letters written to the dead which go unanswered will bring misfortune. The solution is the formation of a top-secret unit of multilingual prisoners whose only job it is to answer these letters, because “like answers like.” This group of elite prisoners is housed underground, in a manufactured village in an abandoned mine, with a mechanical sun and moon. One day the unit gets a letter from Martin Heidegger, who is not dead, nor is the person he is writing to, his optometrist. The Jewish optometrist is in Auschwitz; as a famous philosopher affiliated with the Nazis, Heidegger must be placated about his friend’s fate.
I downloaded Thaisa Frank’s Heidegger’s Glasses from Amazon; it’s no longer free, but it is still available, both in print and for Kindle. From reading the description on the Amazon website, I thought this book would be more about Heidegger; although Heidegger is a character in the book, he isn’t a major character. Nonetheless, since he is in the title, his ideas permeate the book, chiefly, what does it mean to be-in-the-world? Our own views of Heidegger are still inextricably linked to how we feel about his wartime loyalties, so it’s brilliant that Frank set this book during wartime, both to demonstrate how Heidegger lived at this time and also to imagine what it was like for those who were victims of the regime he supported.
The central characters are the Nazi commander of the camp, Lodenstein, who identifies more with the prisoners than with his superiors, and who spends his time trying to keep them all out of the view of those in power, and Elie, his lover, who visits the outside world and trades her flirtatious smiles for small treats for her fellow scribes. Interspersed throughout the book are letters and their replies (supposedly written by the scribes); they provide an ironic contrast to the actual action, since the scribes are required to maintain the fiction that those in the camps are being treated humanely.
Heidegger’s Glasses is literary fiction. It appealed to me because of the Heidegger connection, and the author does a great job of weaving the philosophy through the novel, yet keeping the story at the forefront. Even if readers have never heard of Heidegger, they will be able to enjoy the book. This was a gripping novel on several levels. It took me a while to “find my footing” (I kept waiting for Heidegger to show up), but once I did, this was a rewarding read. 4/5*