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Reviewed by Raanan Geberer for Readers' Favorite
In Richard Steinitz’s Kaplan’s Quest, Shmuel Kaplan is a young Israeli academic who has always been haunted by the figure of his great-uncle Samuel Kaplan, for whom he was named. Samuel, a German Jew, was a champion shot-putter and came to Tel Aviv in 1935 for the Maccabia Games, an international competition for Jewish athletes, but for some inexplicable reason decided to return to Nazi Germany. Finally, Kaplan decides to visit Germany in hope of finding out more about his uncle’s fate. He is assisted by his Canadian-Jewish cousin Jack, also an academic and an athlete in his own right. After interviewing elderly people who had crossed paths with Samuel and looking at countless documents, Shmuel discovers that around the beginning of World War II, Samuel and several other physically fit Jewish athletes were forcibly recruited by an obsessed German officer to help discover and dig out a supposed ancient tunnel between France and England. Shmuel, shuttling back and forth between several countries, now seeks to discover the identities of the other young Jewish athletes as well.
Richard Steinitz’s Kaplan’s Quest is well written and will appeal to people interested in the history of World War II in Europe, people interested in Jewish history, and fans of historical fiction in general. Many Americans are used to headlines about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis but know next to nothing about the day-to-day lives of middle-class Israelis – and the book shows life inside Israel as well. Through the interviews with the elderly Europeans, Steinitz shows how the war disrupted people’s lives, both Jewish and non-Jewish. All in all, Kaplan’s Quest is an interesting, exciting book, a thinking person’s adventure story.