Review: The Draughtsman – Robert Lautner

The Draughtsman Robert LautnerMy version: Hardback
Genre: Historical Fiction WWII, Germany
The Borough Press
First published: 2017
Bought, signed

From the cover:

Germany 1944. Ernst Beck’s new job marks an end to months of unemployment. Working for Erfurt’s most prestigious engineering firm, Topf & Sons, means he can finally make a contribution to the war effort, provide for his beautiful wife, Etta, and make his parents proud. But there is a price.

Ernst is assigned to the firm’s smallest team – the special ovens department. Reporting directly to Berlin, his role is to annotate plans for new crematoria that are deliberately designed to burn day and night. Their destination; the concentration camps. Topf’s new client: the SS.

As the true nature of his work dawns on him, Ernst has a terrible choice to make: turning a blind eye will keep him and Etta safe, but that’s little comfort if staying silent amounts to collusion in the death of thousands.

This bold and uncompromising work of literary fiction shines a light on the complex contradictions of human nature and examines how deeply complicit we can become in the face of fear.

If you can explain to me the ‘remarkable achievement’ nonsense at the top of the cover there, I’ll be most happy. I’m done with seeing that sort of meaningless crap littering perfectly reasonable books. Other authors, often, just providing something publishers can stick on the front. Readers nodding sagely “‘remarkable achievement’…must be good.” Me: “what’s remarkable about it? It’s not a new idea! Is he the first to have got the whole idea down into book form, I don’t think so. He has spelled all the words correctly? Is that why it’s remarkable?” You get the picture. It. Means. Nothing.

Anyway. My first thought upon finishing was that it was a missed opportunity. The style started out working nicely, succinct, sparse, bleak of course, but became irritating. Then, when you read the afterword at the end, you find that a German considering what to do when set to drawing plans for the crematoria at Buchenwald and Auschwitz (amongst others), wasn’t what the guy was wanting to do at all.

This is not a holocaust story, and only in its setting and circumstances is it intended to be a historical story. I wanted to ask ‘what would you do?’

He seems to have a beef – quite rightly – with the financial sector and big industry getting away with ‘murder,’ before during and after the various finance crises, mostly the recent one(s)….so chose to set the book in Second World War Germany, where a guy is helping design crematoria…yes, I see…

OK, he’s saying that alarm bells about the finance crisis, should have been sounded and whistles blown, excesses stopped and punishment meted out during and afterwards, safeguards put in place, but it’s a bit of a jump to genocide.

The Draughtsman Robert LautnerAs a Historical Fiction novel, posing the question, it actually works rather well. Though I did feel he ducked it a little. He’s showing, as he says (again) at the end, the ‘banality of evil.’ That the Holocaust was mostly carried out by little nobodies. Who probably didn’t (want to) know what they were doing. Didn’t want to, or couldn’t, or shied away from, the big picture. Someone ‘had to’ round the people up, someone ‘had to’ transport them – so are the train drivers equally guilty? – someone ‘had to’ build the camps – OK, they got the prisoners themselves to do that often – the crematoria didn’t design and build themselves. Someone ‘had to’ do it. The ‘had to’ is the sticky part. Of course they could have gone elsewhere for a job…or could they? They could have said ‘no’ to the contract from the SS, but their ‘rivals’ would have grabbed it. They couldn’t make an arrangement to not work with the SS en masse (in secret)…you see? The ‘complex contradictions’ of the intro, are very real and looked at here, but wisely, left for the reader to ponder on. My The Draughtsman Robert Lautner signaturefeeling of what I would have done, is to duck out of it too – as you would – with a ‘thank goodness I didn’t have to choose.’ We think we’re more ‘free’ nowadays and that someone would surely step in and stop something like this from happening. Maybe they would, maybe not. Is the UK rescuing hundreds of people from the Mediterranean and Italy saying ‘we don’t want them, you take them,’ and the UK saying ‘we don’t want them, we’ve done our bit by stopping them from drowning,’ any different from the situation just before WWII, where everyone agreed that ‘something should be done’ about the Jews Germany was treating so despicably, but ‘ooh, no, we haven’t room, we daren’t take them, there’d be trouble,’ and then Germany actually doing something about them. Any different? A manufactured ‘problem’ of course, and no one really should have needed to ‘do something about it,’ but the situation at the time, for the average Joe, meant he could do very little, even to register a protest. What was this guy gonna do? Snap his pencil each time he had to draw? Send plans to the Allies? Good luck with that and with them believing you. Quit the job. Starve. At the time, that’s where you’ve got to place yourself when you are asked ‘what would you do’ and that is impossible. We all have choices. Often it’s no choice at all.

You can buy The Draughtsman from

A fantastic Speesh Reads Pinterest Board for The Draughtsman awaits you. With pictures of some of the places and people mentioned in the book

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