By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Hans Keilson, Ivo Jarosy
Narration by: James Clamp
“The Death of the Adversary” is a chilling view of the rise of Nazism in Germany. Hans Keilson never mentions the word Jew, Hitler, or Germany in his novel about the 1930s but notions of history inform the listener of what Keilson is writing about. Names are not named because Keilson writes the story while hiding during WWII. He flees Germany to join the Dutch resistance when denied the opportunity to practice medicine as a Jew.
The main character of Keilson’s novel refuses to believe his father, or acquaintances at work and school, of the threat of an unnamed adversary in his home country. This anti-hero pursues his life as though the threat of State terror would pass without affecting his life. However, as events unfold, the anti-hero hears the radio voice of “…the Adversary” and begins to understand the underlying murderous intent of a charismatic political actor who will turn the country’s lives upside down. Keilson writes of a speech given by “…the Adversary” to give the reader/listener some insight to the power of words in the hands of a consummate actor. “The power of words” is a terrifying realization to the anti-hero. The realized terror is that spoken words by one actor can lead to a genocidal mania on the part of a chosen people.
Next, Keilson tells a story of a meeting at a friend’s house where several young men congregate to discuss a local incident. The anti-hero’s friend is a woman who is employed at his place of work. One of the young men is her brother. It appears the young men are relatively close friends that choose to allow the anti-hero to join their conversation. One of the youngest of the group tells of his recruitment in an obscure organization. He volunteers to go on a night mission under the supervision of the organization’s leader.
The recruitment is for a team of miscreants to desecrate the graves of a cemetery which one presumes is a particular ethnic graveyard. The purpose is to defile the memory of the people buried in the graveyard and the common beliefs that hold society together. Some of the participants are ambivalent about the mission but go along with the leader’s direction. Head stones are overturned and graves are shat upon; a disgusting exhibition of how disrespectful a society can become.
Keilson recounts the love and guilt of his anti-hero by explaining how his father prepares a suitcase for himself and wife, and his son. The parent’s suitcase is preparation for a knock on the door in the middle of the night. The poignancy of the things to be put in the suitcase highlights the ugliness of necessity. The parents do not plan to leave their country in spite of the danger of staying. The suitcase for the son is to escape the country. The son seems resigned to let life happen. He is an anti-hero that is prepared to let events control his life; even though the consequence may be loss of his parents.
The final chapters offer the anti-hero the opportunity to kill “…the Adversary”. He chooses not to and history shows his decision to be both right and wrong. It is right in light of the ultimate death of “…the Adversary” because of actions of others who stop his reign of terror. It seems wrong because of the death of many (particularly the anti-hero’s parents), and his failure to confront “…the Adversary” before it is too late. Keilson makes a fine and ironic point by having the anti-hero murdered before escaping the country.
One is compelled to wonder about oneself in listening to Keilson’s story. Who will choose to confront the adversary? Who will “go along to get along”?