It is in and of itself an achievement to write a book that your literary agent judges to be unable to be published in both Israel and Germany. Yet, from what Lavie told me, this is exactly what happened to A Man Lies Dreaming.
The plot can bes summed up in one sentence that explains this phenomenon:
Jewish Auschwitz prisoner flees from his hellish reality by imagening a pulp detective story in which all the villains in his life (including Hitler, Eichmann etc.) are protagonists.
A Man Lies Dreaming, is a gut-wrenching, sometimes nauseating hell-ride of a novel. The description of the daily life of the central character, Shomer, in Auschwitz is bad enough, but then comes the story he makes up in his head and things get really, well, twisted.
The story in Shomer’s head is set in London in 1939, in an alternate universe were the KPD, the German Communist Party, won the election of 1933. The Nazis either fled or chaged sides and everyone with some money, including many Jews fled.
Now London is full of refugees and expats, trying to settle in and find a new life for themselves. Some of the former leading echolon of the NSDAP are now businessmen in the skin trade, such as Hess and Goebbels. The skin trade is one of the more obvious aspects of the pulp story in which Shomer puts a bucket-load of the things he witnesses every day. It is horrifying to read and the knowledge of where Shomer gets his ideas from make the dark abyss the reader experiences even darker.
The protagonist of the pulp story is a detective called Wolf, and this is all I am going to say about him as a person. He gets hired by a rich Jewish girl to find her sister and the more brutal Shomers life becomes, the more brutality enters the pulp story and the more Wolf suffers at the hand of various thugs. And here lies one of the worst mind-fucks I have ever experienced, but to go into any more detail would be a major spoiler.
The novel ends in a really bizarre twist that makes you wonder what the final fate of Shomer is, if he died, crossed dimensions, went insane, travelled in time or what… It is hard to tell and it is an end I did not expect at all.
On top of it all, A Man Lies Dreaming is fast-paced, fascinating, in all its horror an excellent read, but be warned: This novel kicks you in the guts really hard on an aweful number of occasions and is not for people looking for beauty in literature.
10/10 and I wonder were Lavie gets his ideas from.