Hitler is alive and well, if not a bit wrinkled, and he’s living in the Amazon jungle thirty years after the end of the Holocaust. Who better than a group of Jewish Nazi hunters to bring him to justice?
And thus you have the plot of George Steiner’s surreal and provocative 1981 novella The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. The plot is gripping but this is no pulp novel. Steiner, a French-born novelist, critic, and philosopher, has long been obsessed with the power of language to corrupt and command, and The Portage simply bathes in such themes. “You can use human speech both to bless, to love, to build, to forgive,” he said in an interview, “and also to torture, to hate, to destroy and to annihilate.”
The novella reaped substantial criticism, not to mention garnering Steiner accusations of anti-Semitism, particularly for its concluding passage in which Hitler is tried in court and given a chance to speak. He makes a number of incendiary statements, the most infamous being that Israel wouldn’t exist without the Holocaust, so in a kind of sense Hitler is the Messiah.
Early on, a prophecy is made: “There shall come a man who…will know the grammar of hell and teach it to others.” That’s A.H., for you.
» Buy the book
» Consider the Nazi press chief’s contention that Hitler’s greatest mistake was his war on the Jews
» Read an interview with Steiner about the novella
» Check out a review of the novella