“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Have you heard that quotation before? How about, “There are no facts, only interpretations?” These quotations are found countless times in current society and are commonly used in areas such as motivational coaching and marketing. However, consider this next quotation, “God is dead, but considering the state of the species man is in, there will perhaps be caves for ages yet in which his shadow will be shown.” That quotation is certainly not very motivational or uplifting. Yet all of these pontifications came from the same source…that being the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche. A world renowned philosopher whose work has had a profound influence on Western philosophy. Nietzsche tackled all subjects, such as art, history and religion. His work in regards to religion and to the “death of God”, are perhaps his most notable and misunderstood areas. Indeed, often being portrayed as almost “Godlike” himself, Nietzsche can actually be perceived as a misunderstood, tragic and flawed human being. As can his sister Elisabeth Nietzsche. This is a motif which Katie Salvo unquestionably pursues in her book, God is a Bedlamite. If you are a fan of captivating historical fiction which is imbued with actual facts and interpretations, then this book is an excellent choice!
In an attempt to not reveal any spoilers to this story, I will provide a brief plot synopsis. Essentially, the novel focuses upon the relationship and travels of Friedrich Nietzsche and his sister Elisabeth. It shows them early on in their lives and follows them as they evolve, forming and quickly destroying new friendships as they go. The story concentrates heavily upon the rumored incestuous affair between Friedrich Nietzsche and his sister. Indeed, it is this very taboo relationship which is central to their flaws and failures. Many promising partnerships are destroyed because of it, and the pair travel down a very dark path together. Will this affair ultimately ruin Friedrich and transform Elisabeth into somebody else entirely? Or is something else at play…even more tragic than forbidden love.
As with all genres, historical fiction has a number of elements which must be contained for it to be believable and successful. For instance, plot, setting, characterization, dialogue and conflict are all key components. However, many of these elements are found in other genres as well. The key to writing great historical fiction is world building. The author has to create an amusing yet accurate world from the past. They are not actually teaching us about the past era. That would be dull and boring. Instead, they are using the conventions of that time, such as culture, mindsets and attitudes, to engage and engross the readers in believable and entertaining fiction. Katie Salvo absolutely does this in her novel. She captures the era magnificently by using her superior skills to turn the writing into beautiful pictures. While the story is full of scandal and sexual innuendos, it is all done with class and never just for its own sake. Each word the author writes has a defined purpose in this novel.
While a believable and enticing world is created by the author, she also does an excellent job in developing her characters. There are a number of secondary characters in the novel, but Friedrich and Elisabeth are the focus. They also grow and evolve greatly over the course of the book. We are able to see them as somewhat noble at times, and selfish, petty and abhorrent at others. They are inherently flawed! They also transform in the story almost entirely in step with the ebb and flow of the plot. Katie Salvo does a wonderful job at adding historical facts, fiction and unknowns to the development of her characters. For example, the entire incestuous affair between brother and sister is a debatable subject and largely comes about as a result of the biographical piece “My Sister and I” Nevertheless, it is presented as an entertaining fictional story which allows the reader to wonder as they read!
This novel is recommended for adult and up due to some of the sexual content contained within. However, I will once again emphasize that everything is done with class and the writing has a certain elegance to it. Lovers of historical fiction…or a great story…will thoroughly enjoy this novel.
5 Pondering Stars for this one!