Weaving a thread of the fantastical through the very real history of prejudice in mid-twentieth century Europe and America, Fentonmiller provides a compelling insight into some of the ways facing cruelty can turn a person cruel without allowing hope to be overwhelmed by the bleakness of concentration camps and race riots.
Kasper Mützenmacher owns a small hat shop in 1930’s Berlin. And a teleporting hat that his family stole from the Greek god, Hermes, and are prophesied to bear until they fulfil an obscure prophecy. Making hats by day and listening to jazz by night, Kasper hasn’t taken the wishing hat out of the safe in years. Until a young woman Kasper meets in a bar is kidnapped by Klaus, a Nazi with the power to steal a woman’s ability to see her own face. Hermes’ hat makes it easy for Kasper to mount a rescue. But, as the Nazi’s grasp on Germany tightens, Kasper finds the normal life he’s built collapsing around him.
While the eponymous headgear and presence of a face-stealing Nazi might suggest urban fantasy or paranormal romance, the focus of this book is Kasper’s relationship with his family; especially his children and grandson. The hat, and the prophecy attached to it, even take third place behind social commentary on Nazi Germany and the United States. As such, this novel might disappoint those looking for exciting japes with teleportation rather than magical realism.
However – while Fentonmiller does use the hat and prophecy as a metaphorical lens on mundane issues – the fantastical is more than just a literary falderal. Fentonmiller creates consistent rules regarding frequency of use and number of people transported, which together provide a plausible explanation for why Kasper doesn’t use it either frivolously during the happy years, or more often during the desperate ones. It is this underlying rigour, combined with hints that the prophecy might be coming true, that prevent the realism from overwhelming the speculation.
Kasper is an interesting, if not utterly sympathetic, protagonist. On an intellectual level, the reader can easily see why the death of his father to a brutal military strategy and the growing terrors of having a Jewish ancestor in Nazi Germany make Kasper the way he is. However, on an emotional level, readers might well find his poor parenting skills and bitterness grate upon occasion.
This choice of plausible and engaging rather than pleasant applies equally to the supporting cast. Failing to break through the wall Kasper has erected, his children and grandson each seek notice and validation in ways that both reject Kasper and his view of the prophecy in some way and display an immature – if understandable – lack of decency. A display made more tragic by the reader’s knowledge that – in the perils of the magical hat and evils of Nazism at least – Kasper is correct.
Beyond Kasper’s family, both the dysfunction and depth reduce, producing characters who, while irking less, also engage less.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to readers seeking a perspective on both the rise and long-term impact of fanatical governments and the effects of generational prejudice on communication.
I received a free copy from the publisher with a request for a fair review.