Thomas Moran is a journalist, and THE MAN IN THE BOX is his first novel. In the concrete and straightforward style of his trade, he tells the story of a German village, Sankt Vero, in World War II, and of a Jew, Dr. Robert Weiss, whom Martin Lukasser, a storekeeper in the village, hides in his barn from the Nazis. Lukasser does this because Weiss, before the war, saved the life of his son Niki, who had appendicitis.
Niki is the novel’s narrator. Through him, readers see the life of the village, the character of his companion Sigi Strolz, and the background of Dr. Weiss.
From his hiding place, Weiss tells his story to Niki and Sigi, goaded and criticized along the way by Sigi herself. Weiss was a surgeon in the German Army in World War I. Before this war, he cheats on his fiance Rachel with a nurse in Venice, and after it, he marries and has a daughter by another Rachel, the cousin of a woman he has an affair with before he acquires a position as a surgeon in Innsbruck.
Despite his sophistication, Weiss’s life is no more complex than that of the villagers in Sankt Vero. Among others, Martin Lukasser, for example, knows the torments of war, having been a soldier in the same debacle as Weiss, and the sex life of the village is as tangled as Weiss’s ever was. Niki and his schoolmates, including blind Sigi, experiment with sex, and their young teacher, Traudl Mumelter, not only excites their sexual curiosity but becomes pregnant by either Niki’s father or Gregor Haas, a crippled veteran from the Russian front.
In his confined hiding place, Weiss is grateful for Niki and Sigi’s daily visits, but after two years he tries to kill himself. Sigi patches him up at his direction, and Niki tells Mumelter about him. She helps the two adolescents cheer Weiss up, though in the end, mistakenly thinking that Weiss has seen him give himself to Sigi, Niki tries to inform on him.
As Martin Lukasser’s argument with Weiss about religion points out, there is little difference between Christians and Jews even on this level. Lust, love, betrayal, cruelty, injury, and death are not limited to one group of humans or another, and this seems to be the main point of THE MAN IN THE BOX.