About ten years ago, I immersed myself in personal reading about Hilter and the Holocaust, including a biography by Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, trying to understand how Hitler could have done what he did, how he became evil incarnate. I was no student of psychology, but I suspected family of origin issues deeply contributed to his psychopathy. I read other articles, citing beatings from his aging father and Hitler's contempt for his subservient young mother as reasons why he devolved into a tyrannical killer.
Though a fictional premise, the reasons put forth in The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer resonated with me: the devil was present at his conception, and that he was the incestuous offspring of his father and his father's niece, which intensified his worst traits, much like animals who are inbred.
And why not? Whose upbringing could have been so horrible to make them into an Adolph Hitler? The notion of the devil in a marriage bed sounds preposterous--precisely one of the reasons I enjoyed The Castle in the Forest. The viewpoint character is a demon who goes by Dieter, who manages to make himself a fly on the wall at the right times: when Hitler's mother is changing his diaper and admires his shiny little sphincter muscle, when "Adi" (Hitler's childhood nickname) takes part in his first war game, when Alois, his father, beats the family dog, and when Adi recounts how he killed his darling baby brother by kissing him and compromising his immune system.
Because of Mailer's ability with historical saga, we meet dozens of characters prior to and following Hitler's birth--all Hitler's father's lovers and wives, his cousins, Hitler's siblings and step-siblings--even Nicholas and Alexandra, prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. Yet, we have no trouble connected with any of the characters or keeping their stories straight.
Some reviewers have criticized Mailer for not focusing enough on Hitler's life in The Castle in the Forest --that it spent too much time on his father Alois's life. The book is what it is. Weaving history and fiction, Catholic school doctrine and sheer provocation (i.e., Hitler's diapers stank to high heaven because he was conceived by the devil--he remained a very smelly person which gave his guardian demons a lifelong challenge masking it), it paints the portrait of the Hitler family, very like other Austrian families during the same time period. Probably better off since Alois was a career civil servant with a decent pension upon retirement. Though the Hilters weren't wealthy nor could they ever be upperclass, money never was a problem.
The book suggests it was Hitler's peer influences once he reached young adulthood combined with his demonic character that made him a monster later in life, more so than early childhood experiences.
The was Mailer's last book, published in the year he died. It is entertaining, educational, shocking, and imaginative, and it merits my highest rating.