The Education of Arnold Hitler
In Marc Estrin's novel Arnold Hitler is born in 1950, the son of George Hitler, an American infantryman and a half-Jewish Italian woman who George accidentally injured in combat in Italy. Arnold is raised in Mansfield, Texas, where he sees the racism of his time, civil rights demonstrations, and a lynching. He grows up to be a scholar and an athlete, the star quarterback of his high school football team, and something of a chess prodigy. From time to time he receives wise advice via a mystical telephonic contact—through his kneecap—with his Jewish grandfather in Italy.
After high school and the dissolution of his first love affair Arnold goes to Harvard College. He quickly finds that his name is a social embarrassment and he struggles to find a niche for himself in the college community. He joins a theater group where he uses a variety of stage names to avoid “Hitler.” Here he meets and falls in love with a daughter of Leonard Bernstein, the conductor and composer. He meets Noam Chomsky and converses with him at length about the relationships between words and objects. Like his high school romance, his affair with Bernstein's daughter ends in betrayal.
After graduation Arnold moves to New York. Penniless, he is introduced to the city underclass—homeless subway dwellers, blitz chess hustlers, skinheads, and the like. In the end he meets the love of his life and marries.
The Education of Arnold Hitler is an intelligent, erudite novel. There is not a page without brilliant—and often very funny—remarks. But Arnold and his interlocutors are only foils for Marc Estrin's view of the world. They all seem to speak in Estrin's voice. Arnold Hitler himself gets lost in the dazzling conversations recounted here.