Tuesday, August 27, 2013

2014 Contenders: The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi, by Neal Bascomb

There is a challenge inherent in writing about a decade-and-a-half long manhunt - a hunt that involved bending/breaking international agreements and endangering several lives in the course of a quest to kidnap, imprison, and ultimately put to death an old man who was living in poverty and basically minding his own business. It is the challenge of establishing, quickly and efficiently, that the man in question was a really, really big, um, jerk. (I'd use other words, but this is a family blog.) There was a time when the name "Eichmann" was synonymous with "really really big jerk" (thanks, in no small part, to the trial resulting from this man hunt), but for young readers today, that may not be the case.

So I was impressed, right at the outset, at how elegantly Neal Bascomb summarizes Eichmann's crimes. In less than twenty pages, he interweaves statistics and personal accounts (notably the story of survivor Zeev Sapir) to form a panoramic view of a truly evil man. By the time we move on to the spy operation itself, there is no doubt in the reader's mind that this is a man who deserves what's coming to him.

The same effectiveness  characterizes the rest of the book, along with an urgency that kept me turning pages through long waits and blind alleys that could easily have slowed the narrative momentum. Bascomb continues to drive home the stakes, both individual and global, of apprehending Eichmann at any cost. Most of the men on the Israeli intelligence team had seen family members sent to their deaths on Eichmann's watch. They were also aware at all times of the importance to posterity of putting such a high-ranking Nazi official on trial. Bascomb keeps this higher goal in sight even as he plunges the reader into the sensory details of grungy Argentine neighborhoods and nail-biting plane rides. The result: a ripping good read that drives home, both viscerally and intellectually, the risks and rewards of this mission.

Nazi Hunters is unlikely to be eligible for the Newbery, since Bascomb published an adult version of the book, Hunting Eichmann, in 2009. We'll see it on the Notables list, though, and it should be on your library's shelves as well.

Published in August by Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)

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