Not Me – Michael Lavigne

Book review cover one

I’ve made it a blogging goal for this year to post more book reviews, as I spend a lot of my down time reading.  First up is Not Me, one of the more unique stories I’ve read so far this year.

What would happen if someone you revered your entire life turned out to not be the person you thought they were? This is the central theme of Michael Lavigne’s debut novel, Not Me. It’s the story of a middle-aged Jewish man named Michael who is watching his elderly father, Heshel,  slowly die of Alzheimer’s. After receiving a box of his father’s old journals from a mysterious benefactor, Michael learns that the man he believed was the most pious Jew he had ever known was  a Nazi bookeeper who assumed a Jewish identity after the war to escape prosecution for his crimes.  Michael is stunned, and as he reads his father’s autobiography, he becomes angry and confused. How could one person live so brazen a lie for so long?

The story is told both through the journal entries and Michael’s responses to them, and I enjoyed Heshel’s story more than Michael’s. I didn’t like Heshel at all, but I found myself wondering what I would have done to escape a similarly bleak situation. Heshel was an accountant responsible for keeping an inventory of the belongings of the prisoners. His journals mention several times that he had an office away from the main part of the camp and he never saw what was really happening. Does that make him as guilty as those who made the laws or killed the prisoners? Did he have a duty to try and stop what was happening? Could he have stopped it if he’d tried?  These questions are what make Not Me a compelling read despite it being more of a character study than a true novel. What I didn’t like were the interactions between Michael, his son and ex-wife. I suppose they were the author’s attempts to humanize his responses to the journal entries, and to show that life goes on, even in the midst of emotional upheaval, but Michael could have been single and the story would have been the same.  Overall, Not Me is a book that raises many philosophical questions and is one I enjoyed.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.