The Locksmith by Lafe Metz

Monday, September 12, 2011

Title: The Locksmith
Author: Lafe Metz (as told by Kurt Kann)
Genre: Biography/memoir
Publisher: LoudCloud Publishing, 2011
Source: Ebook provided by Author
Read for: Review

Kurt Kann's family is ravaged by the brutality of Kristallnacht - his father taken to Dachau, his mother beaten, his brother terrified. His family manages to escape to America, and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Kurt joins the military in order to get back at the Nazis and, he hopes, have a chance to settle his grievances against the Superintendent, his neighbor that told the Nazis about Kurt's family on Kristallnacht.

I always struggle a bit with reviewing a memoir. This is someone's story - often the greatest and most important events in their lives. Whether or not their story moves me personally does not detract from its power for them. With that said, I found Kann's story unique and interesting, but with an overall tone of vengeance that decreased my personal enjoyment of the story.

The book followed a narrative from Kristallnacht to the end of the war, with a few scattered chapters that would flash back to Kurt's past. While these flashbacks were occasionally disorienting, in general I enjoyed the way they tied the story together. Often Kurt would encounter something in the war or during his time living in America that reminded him of or could be represented by a scene from his past. The flashbacks added personality to Kurt's story.

Lafe Metz also did an excellent job of forming Kann's story into a clear and concise narrative. The language was simple but straightforward, only rarely meandering backwards into the past (and as I've mentioned, this was usually to the story's credit). I've found occasionally in memoirs a tendency to ruminate on aspects of the story that are not immediately important to the narrative, but this memoir was free of that fault.

The unique turn the story took was the best part of this memoir for me. I have never heard a story of a Jewish person escaping Nazi Germany and then returning as an American soldier. Kurt's experiences gave him a passion for victory that surpassed that of the other soldiers. While he lived the same military life as the men in his battalion, with the same distractions, horrors seen, and living conditions, he also lived with the knowledge that the men he was fighting were responsible for the suffering his family had encountered during the early days of World War II.

The most poignant and disturbing part of the book is when Kurt and his battalion liberate several Jews from captivity. I've read quite a few World War II books, many of them graphically describing the inhumanity of the concentration camps, but nothing prepared me for the nightmarish scene described in the book. Kurt Kann's story does not leave anything to the imagination - he uses harsh language to describe a harsh situation. It isn't pretty, but it is powerful, and a disturbing reminder of the terrible things mankind is capable of.

While the story was rendered well, the overall message of the story did seem a bit problematic. Kurt is obsessed with seeing vengeance done to the Nazis who hurt his family and his people, and in particular, the Superintendent that allowed his mother to be abused. I am sure his pain at these events is beyond anything I have experienced. However, a few deaths occur that are basically just out of Kurt's desire for revenge. They did horrible things, and I'm sure they deserved what happened to them. However, I was a bit uncomfortable with the fact that he resolved his experience with violence.

Overall, I think this is a unique and powerful story from the countless voices of World War II. I would recommend the book to anyone who loves reading about the military or World War II in general. This book also seemed like a story that would appeal to male audiences.

Warnings for the sensitive reader: Military language. A few stories of a boy's rowdy love adventures. Violence and disturbing themes.

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