Author Daniel Quinn is known for his high-concept literature–which I like to describe as written philosophies set to narrative–and his internationally best-selling book Ishmael can be found in classrooms around the world. After Dachau, which was published in 2001, ten years after Ishmael, is a high concept novel as well, but it’s appeal for me is in its approachability. The role between narrative and philosophy is more evenly weighted, and the addition of a more action-filled plot line (moderately so) makes it a more straightforward book for everyday reading.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Ishmael. It’s one of my long-time favorites, and I often feel I should return to it more frequently than I do. But there are days and weeks when, tired out from this and that, I find I don’t have the concentration to sift through the meanings and morals without the need to re-read sections as I go. There are books that can be read quickly and there are books that require more attention. Whether or not these books are better or worse for the ease with which they can be digested, it is a fact of life that sometimes we all have the attention span of a three-year old on a sugar high. And while After Dachau does in fact require far more concentration than your average beach read, it’s the lightest fare of Quinn’s that I’ve read so far. It’s also, as his books always are, very thought provoking.
Now comes the hard part: it is nearly impossible to describe After Dachau without revealing at least a few spoilers. For those who are incredibly spoiler-conscious, here’s a one-sentence description from the publisher: “Compared by readers and critics alike to 1984 and Brave New World, After Dachau is a new dystopian classic with much to say about our own time, and the dynamics of human history.” Quinn has created a fascinating revisionist history filled with “what if?”s, and the characters involved are just as befuddled as the reader when it all begins. And while the definition of “classic” may be thrown around with little care these days by reviewers and marketing teams alike, I can certainly say, with no hesitation, that After Dachau is worth the read.
Now for those who don’t mind a couple of spoilers in order to better understand what they’re diving into: It is 1992 A.D., 2,002 years after Hitler and the Nazis won the war, and the world is homogenous and ignorant, the re-written histories of world-wide genocides stripped from the history books. In this world, trust-fund baby Jason Tull, Jr., is a college graduate and bored with what his ordinary world has to offer. (This may be a “dystopian” society, but only through our perspective: the citizens of it are completely unaware.) To stave off the apathy, he signs on with an underfunded foundation looking to find and prove instances of reincarnation. When a tip leads him to car-crash victim Mallory Hastings, who wakes up as a deaf woman originating from 2,000 years ago, the journey to uncover history as it was begins. The “what if” questions abound, and Quinn clearly brings up the idea that to the victor go the spoils, history included.
You can find After Dachau in our Staff Favorites department at our main store in Seattle.