Not Me is a remarkable debut novel that tells the dramatic and surprising stories of two men–father and son–through sixty years of uncertain memory, distorted history, and assumed identity. When Heshel Rosenheim, apparently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, hands his son, Michael, a box of moldy old journals, an amazing adventure begins–one that takes the reader from the concentration camps of Poland to an improbable love story during the battle for Palestine, from a cancer ward in New Jersey to a hopeless marriage in San Francisco. The journals, which seem to tell the story of Heshel’s life, are so harrowing, so riveting, so passionate, and so perplexing that Michael becomes obsessed with discovering the truth about his father. As Michael struggles to come to grips with his father’s elusive past, a world of complex and disturbing possibilities opens up to him–a world in which an accomplice to genocide may have turned into a virtuous Jew and a young man cannot recall murdering the person he loves most; a world in which truth is fiction and fiction is truth and one man’s terrible–or triumphant–transformation calls history itself into question. Michael must then solve the biggest riddle of all: Who am I?Intense, vivid, funny, and entirely original, Not Me is an unsparing and unforgettable examination of faith, history, identity, and love.
Buried beneath ill-advised metaphors (a revelatory journal "was glued to my fingers, like when you touch something really cold, like an ice cube or a metal pole...") and a clunky structure is a provocative debut novel that might have said something profound about growing up in the home of Holocaust survivors. Michael Rosenheim, a divorced stand-up comic, is caring for his Alzheimer's-afflicted father when he discovers 24 volumes of his father's journals. In them, Heshel Rosenheim has detailed (in the form of a novel) that he is not a concentration camp survivor, but a former Nazi accountant at Bergen-Belsen who has posed as a Jew since the end of WWII. The novel flips back and forth between Heshel's story and Michael's attempts to prove it real; Lavigne mixes in subplots about Michael's relationship with his son, his pining for his ex-wife, and his sister's slow, painful death from cancer. The diary sections hold the most sway, and the novel would have been better served had Lavigne kept the present-day story as little more than a frame surrounding the account of how one man transformed himself from SS officer to pillar of the New Jersey Jewish community. Lavigne's book has tremendous potential for drama, but it avoids telling the story at its heart.
This book is ...
I am currently reading it right now, and I can't to let my hands let go of it. It is a really great novel so far.