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A ​dozen years after the collapse of the Third Reich, four adolescents commit a gratuitously violent assault and robbery in a Viennese park. So begins Jelinek’s brilliant new novel, an unrelenting and horrifying exploration of postwar Austria, where the sins of the fathers are visited upon a new generation too disaffected to understand the source of its inarticulate rage. Jelinek’s prose is breathless and incisive as she paints psychological portraits of her characters in swift, sure brushstrokes. Among the group of young criminals in the park are Rainer Witkowski, a liar and a coward who fancies himself a poet, an intellectual and a leader of men, and his twin sister, Anna, who responds to rejection by losing her ability to speak. Their father, Otto, is a brutally sadistic, crippled ex-Nazi who takes pornographic pictures of his battered wife and whose sexual abilities are failing now that the aphrodisiac of Auschwitz is only a dim memory. He is unrepentant; history, he believes, has forgiven him. The son cites Sartre’s proposition that history does not exist. But it does, and it repeats itself here in an explosion of sickeningly familiar violence.

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