ALADDIN’S PROBLEM brings to an English-speaking audience the freshest work of Germany’s famous Ernst Junger, whose tightly constructed novels center on humanity’s response to an obsessively materialist world. Born in 1895 and still writing vigorously, Junger combines this interest with his search for a morally satisfying response to the problem of Germany’s Nazi past.
Before striking it rich, like Aladdin, or postwar West Germany with its “economic miracle,” the novel’s protagonist Friedrich Baroh personifies the suffering Germany endured as a consequence of letting Hitler come to power. Growing up fatherless in East Berlin, and drafted into the East German People’s Army, Friedrich has lost home and spiritual bearings to World War II. Rebelling against the joyless Communist regime, he defects to the West.
After a marriage for love and years as a poor student, Friedrich gets wealthy in the funeral business of his uncle, Fridolin Gadke. Yet success estranges him from his wife, Bertha. It is she, however, who discovers the perfect site for a modern-day city of the dead in some strange caves in central Turkey, a geological wonder.
Faced with the prospect of near-endless wealth, with the booming of his necropolis, Friedrich loses his appetite for life. Instead of enjoying his riches, as did Aladdin with his princess bride Budur al-Badr, Friedrich starts drinking; his daydreams begin to take up most of his waking life.
Now appears the mysterious Phares, a favorite character of Ernst Junger’s, who features in many of his works. A Jewish wise man, Phares shows Friedrich the interconnectedness of all life in the cosmos. This gives Friedrich new hope, new love for Bertha, and a renewed zeal for life.
With ALADDIN’S PROBLEM, Ernst Junger offers a fascinating, well-written, and quick-moving reflection on the problems of success and the complicated legacy World War II has bequeathed the Germans. Through his protagonist’s tragicomic struggles, Junger explores whether love and a meaningful life can still exist in the modern world. The novel’s answer is a guarded yes.
Sources for Further Study
Library Journal. CXVII, October 15, 1992, p. 99.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 11, 1992, p. 6.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, November 22, 1992, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, September 7, 1992, p. 80.