Before the Court of Heaven

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
530 Pages
Reviewed on 08/10/2016
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Author Biography

Jack Mayer is a Vermont writer and pediatrician. His was the first pediatric practice in Eastern Franklin County, on the Canadian border, where he was a country doctor for ten years often bartering medical care for eggs, firewood, and knitted afghans. From 1987 – 1991 Dr. Mayer was a National Cancer Institute Fellow at Columbia University researching the molecular biology of childhood cancer. Dr. Mayer established Rainbow Pediatrics in Middlebury, Vermont in 1991 where he continues to practice primary care pediatrics. He is an Instructor in Pediatrics at the University of Vermont School of Medicine and an adjunct faculty for pre-medical students at Middlebury College. He was a participant at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2003 and 2005 (fiction) and 2008 (poetry). LIFE IN A JAR: THE IRENA SENDLER PROJECT, his first non-fiction book has garnered 8 book awards. LIFE IN A JAR tells the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker who organized the rescue of 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto and the three Kansas teens who uncovered her forgotten (suppressed) history 60 years later. Three Protestant girls from a small, poor, rural school district in Kansas helped crack open Polish/Jewish dialogue about the Holocaust. His new book, BEFORE THE COURT OF HEAVEN, historical fiction about Germany between the wars and the rise of the Nazis, examines how ordinary people became complicit in extraordinary crimes.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Raanan Geberer for Readers' Favorite

Before the Court of Heaven by Jack Mayer tells the story of Ernst Techow, a young German who, in the years following World War I, gets caught up in what can be called the pre-Nazi movement. As a youngster before the war, he learns, both from his nationalist family and from the Wandervogel, a “back to nature” youth movement, to dislike Jews, socialists, bankers, “decadent” modern culture, and Slavic immigrants. After serving in the Kaiser’s army, he joins the Friekorps, a conglomeration of militia groups that are called into service to fight pro-Bolshevik revolutionaries. Then he joins a secret group and is part of the team that assassinates Walter Rathenau, a Jewish statesman whom Ernst and his colleagues blame for “stabbing Germany in the back.” You would think that with this background, Ernst would be a natural candidate for the emerging Nazi movement. But when he finally does join the Nazis, he’s in for a rude awakening.

Seventy years after it ended, the Nazi period continues to draw the attention of novelists, and Before the Court of Heaven is one of the best. The characters are subtle and three-dimensional. Ernst, for example, has a softer side — he likes the poetry of Heinrich Heine, a Jew, and the paintings of the French impressionists. This side of him gives a clue as to his eventual disillusionment with the Nazis. Another character that is superbly drawn is Hans Gerd Techow, Ernst’s asthmatic, disabled brother, who tries to overcome his disabilities by becoming one of the most militant fascists around. Mayer also does a good job of depicting the subculture of ultra-nationalist youths in the early '20s, and he shows us that anti-Semitism was part of German culture long before the Nazi era. All in all, Before the Court of Heaven is a fascinating historical novel.