Updated: Dec 21, 2019
What on earth do World Ice Theory and Tibet have to do with the Nazi regime? Why do we read historical fiction, if not to learn something from the past? The Hollow Bones revealed a totally new prism of Nazi madness of which I had been previously unaware. Have you even heard of World Ice Theory? It sounds like something fantastical which might have spun out of a Superman comic along with kryptonite, but the truth is far more sinister. It was part of the distorted philosophy of the Nazi vision of the world and their misguided belief that they were born of a superior biological race. I recall learning about the Nazis' belief in an 'Aryan' race, but never the crackpot theory of 'Glacial Cosmonogy' put forward by Hanns Horbiger in the 19th century, (after a dream rather than any scientific research) which was adopted as the Nazi's official cosmology and ardently supported by Himmler and Hitler alike.
With this as the chilling backdrop, the story unfolds of childhood sweethearts: bird-loving Ernst and Herta, a flautist. Ernst is sent off to boarding school, but they meet up again as young adults and marry. Tragically, their lives are insidiously subsumed by the demands of the Nazi regime, and their relationship becomes compromised when Ernst, a zoologist, is sent by his patron, Heinrich Himmler, to Tibet on an expedition to uncover the origins of the Aryan race. Not only their lives, but Ernst and Herta's beliefs diverge. Separation and overweening ambition take their toll. Their relationship not only with each other, but with nature, is undermined. Reunited again, it is not without a scorpion sting to their sorry tale.
Leah's writing is captivating and richly layered. It is little wonder she has won so many literary accolades, including for 'Hollow Bones', the International Book Award for both Literary Fiction and Historical Fiction.
This was my Goodread's review earlier in the year:
Oh my aching heart! This beautifully written novel shines a light on the shortfalls of humanity. It was a lesson in how characters may start with open and loving hearts, but grow into adults who lack compassion and are driven by their careers and ambition rather than any sort of humane sensibility. It revealed aspects of the Nazi regime and their skewed vision of the world, about which I knew so little, namely 'World Ice Theory' and the Nazi's quest to prove their superiority. Many of the lines struck home : of Ernst Schafer, 'His achievements were measured in head counts.' While Herta's rather passive attitude aligned figuratively with a quote about ducks - 'Blending in with her nest surroundings helps protect both her and her offspring'. Sadly her compassion for her husband and acceptance of the regime proved misguided and ultimately her downfall. This novel is fascinating, disturbing and illuminating. Leah Kaminsky is a brave and talented writer!