Aladdin’s Problem (Magill Book Reviews)
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....
(The entire section is 369 words.)
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Aladdin’s Problem (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
At the peak of his career, Friedrich Baroh, the thirty-seven-year-old protagonist and first-person narrator of Ernst Jünger’s well-told tale Aladdin’s Problem, likens himself to the Arabic folk hero whose life changed instantly when he found the genie-bearing magic lamp. Having struck it rich with an esoteric scheme for a modern-day necropolis, Baroh, like Aladdin, must confront his new power to realize his material dreams.
Unlike Aladdin, Baroh is deeply disturbed by this. Instead of enjoying his wealth with his wife Bertha, as did Aladdin with his princess bride, he starts drinking. His daydreams begin to take up most of his waking life. It is at this point that the mysterious Phares, a favorite character of the author who appears in many of his writings, contacts Baroh.
Jünger, a German writer well known in Europe, offers a fascinating, well-written, and quick-moving reflection on the problems of material success. By making his protagonist a displaced East German, Jünger weds his philosophical examination to a deep-cutting scrutiny of the complicated legacy that World War II bequeathed to the Germans. Through his protagonist’s tragicomic struggles, Jünger brings these two themes together as his novel asks the central question: Are love, friendship, and a meaningful life still possible in a world full of money but utterly devoid of an overall moral, spiritual, or ethical guidance system?
In answering, Jünger...
(The entire section is 1761 words.)