Some Wine For Remembrance


Book Review by Willard Manus

Edmund Keeley's novel, SOME WINE FOR REMEMBRANCE, deals with one man's quest for justice in an unjust world. Part detective story, part war tale (with romantic overtones), part meditation on moral truth, the book investigates a still-controversial issue: whether the late Kurt Waldheim, former U.N. secretary-general and Austrian president, was involved in the atrocities committed by the Nazis in occupied Greece during WW II.

Waldheim denied all complicity in the course of remaking himself into an international statesman in the post-war era. In Keeley's novel Jackson Ripaldo, an American journalist turned mystery writer, is hired by a friend and fellow Hellenophile, Count Wittekind, who represents a committee of progressive Austrian journalists, to determine whether the "Big O" truly did order the entire village of Hortiati--including 147 men, women and children--to be wiped out during the occupation.

"The point is, we have to provide evidence that it wasn't simply a retaliation for partisan activity in the area," Wittekind tells Ripaldo. "We have to demonstrate that it involved killing of innocent civilians. Simple reprisals for guerrilla activity were permitted under the Hague Regulations....We need proof of what happened. Documents. First-hand accounts. Witnesses willing to testify as to who was involved. Whatever you can dig up for us that may be useful...Hard facts!"

Ripaldo's quest leads him to a villager who served with the leftwing partisans operating in the hills above Hortiati, and then to the villager's wife Marina, who as a girl of eighteen not only worked as a maid for the Germans but fell in love with one of them, a medic named Martin. Marina in turn directs Ripaldo's investigation to Martin's superior, an ex-Wehrmacht officer who eventually defected and was smuggled out of Greece. The latter denies having taken part in any atrocities, but does tell Ripaldo where he can find Martin's widow, Lotte Kistner.

Each of these richly drawn characters can shed partial light on the Big O's dark past, but ultimately Ripaldo is puzzled by the Rashomon-like complexity of it all. Truth is not only subjective but elusive, baffling. In the end, though, he decides to take direct personal action and confront the Big O, if only because "the rhetoric his war had taught him was not that of a suffering soul but of an arch hypocrite."

Ripaldo does not try to physically attack the Big O, merely shouts at him in public, letting him know that at least one person was on to him, was horrified by what he had done at Hariati. Ripaldo's victory isn't much, it doesn't really change anything, except himself. He has learned that "there are some things that should be beyond compromise." It gives him a strength and sense of peace he has never known before.

(White Pine Press, POB 236, Buffalo, NY 14201, $15. ppbk)