|The Desert Peach: Headaches. By Donna Barr. Bremerton, WA: A Fine Line Press, 2001. 64p. $6.00. ISBN 1-892253-11-9.|
Historical fiction; gay and lesbian fiction
Adults, teens; adult situations
We start in an alternate universe where the Nazis have won World War II and several of the veterans have made a home for themselves in the desert. Kjars Winzig, who has married one of the local Arabic girls, is tormented by the camels, which won't obey, and his young boy, who's almost as opinionated as the camels. Udo Schmidt and the Rommels are hanging around the camp to provide some comic relief.
However, all of this is just a story being written by Kjars--surreptitiously using Captain Jeff Holz's typewriter and paper. Jeff kicks Kjars off the typewriter (he needs it to write the camp newspaper), and Kjars resorts to writing his stories by hand. Jeff finds out what Kjars is writing and, impressed by Kjars's creative drive, gives him some more paper. But Kjars needs more, so he goes to rummage through the trash at the administrative tent. Here, he is confronted by Pfirsich Rommel; there are extremely sensitive records in that tent that Pfirsich doesn't want Kjars to see. He fobs some scented stationery off on Kjars, and decides to move into the admin tent to make sure he can keep an eye on the place.
Turns out there's some surreptitious and illegal people-transference/rescue going on--which, by the way, Erwin approves of. Pfirsich has made a deal with a devil (the commandant of a concentration camp) to funnel people to his unit whenever possible--including a child. (One of the subplots deals with a little girl refugee who is running around the camp.) The story goes back and forth between events at the concentration camp (the commandant is tormented by headaches and conscience, hence the title of the book) and at Pfirsich's unit, where Udo has received a letter in family code and Erwin is trying to interpret it. One of Udo's cousins is a guard at the camp (he wrote the letter), and he is usually assigned to go with the camp doctor, himself an inmate, to buy medicine in the city. The commandant is desperately trying to save people, but he knows his time is limited--he could be replaced at any time, or the nature of the camp could be changed.
Another splendid Peach book from Barr. This one takes some careful reading, because there are a lot of subplots and side stories interwoven together: Kjars's book, the secret in the administrative tent, a timid and distrustful new arrival (an adult refugee) that Udo is trying to draw out, the scurrying little girl, Erwin and Pfirsich's confrontation about the refugees, discussions (and tussles) between the soldiers over the differences between city and country Germans, the argument between Pfirsich's "shoulder angel" and "shoulder devil" (the resolution of which, BTW, is hysterical) and the concentration camp/family code threads.
A point of special interest: Although readers have known for a while that the Peach isn't the airhead he pretends to be--at least, not wholly the airhead he pretends to be--this is one of the first times that Erwin Rommel has had confirmation of the fact.
I would've liked to have seen more done with the adult refugee; his story seemed a bit truncated. The little girl is adorable, though, and it's lovely to see yet another bit of humanity in Kjars concerning her: rabid Nazi-wannabe though he is, he would never think of harming a child, and at one point takes her under his wing--though he is unaware of her status. (He also worked her into his story.) Nor does he believe that Hitler would order anyone to do so: "My Fuhrer-MY Fuhrer--children give him FLOWERS!"
If you haven't sampled the Peach before, it's time to do so. This is serious, well-researched historical fiction that explores all kinds of interesting themes related to World War II, homosexuality, postwar Germany, etc., in brutally honest, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic ways. It's not a stretch to say that Barr is one of the premier historians working in the comics medium. Most highly recommended (though if you're just starting out with the Peach I'd recommend getting the early books first).
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