The Mercy Room
Mon. October 16, 2006 12:00 AM
by Chad Sosna
Book: The Mercy Room
Author: Gilles Rozier
Review: 3 stars (out of 5)
Intriguing, cryptic, dark story
If you are looking for a complex, literary work, with intensity and depth, this will certainly suit you. It's narrated by a person of undetermined gender who is a conservative teacher in a French town. As WW II approaches, the narrator gets summoned to serve as a translator for the Nazis, and, in a rare bold move, decides to sneak a young Jewish soldier into the basement of his/her home.
The narrator was married but "Jude" (male or female, we're not supposed to know) has committed suicide. As the stowaway, Herman, lives hidden in the basement, the narrator shares deep passion with him and enjoys tender moments discussing literature, Yiddish, and other cultural aspects.
The story takes a surprising and dark twist as the narrator gets tired of a Nazi soldier who comes to visit and have sex with Anne, the narrator's more-than-willing sister.
While the book is well-written, the environment carefully well-colored, eventually the desire to know the protagonist's gender gets in the way. It is supposed to be that way to show how such an intense relationship is genderless, but the attempt doesn't quite work.
Keep in mind that this book was originally written in French, and translated. Perhaps it was written more for the eclectic European reader rather than more straightforward American tastes. It takes substantial effort to get immersed in it.
If you're looking for a "gay novel," this isn't it. Nor is it really a historical novel. I would describe it more as a book for those who enjoy experimental literature or who crave to read anything set during WWII.